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Advocates urge landowners to prepare for CO2 pipelines


A coalition of southern Illinois environmental groups is warning rural landowners of potential safety and financial risks from a planned carbon sequestration project in the area.

The Illinois sandstone geology is considered ideal for underground carbon sequestration. Several such projects in the state have been proposed and studied in the past without coming to fruition, as large-scale carbon capture and sequestration remains an expensive and largely untested technology.

That could change with a Texas company’s proposed Heartland Greenway project, a 1,300-mile network of pipelines that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five Midwestern states to central Illinois, where up to to 15 million metric tons would be stored in a “porous space” located under thousands of acres of farmland and other rural properties.

The risk of damage from the construction and operation of the project has already raised significant opposition in Iowa. In a March 7 webinar, experts and local attorneys in southern Illinois urged landowners to prepare a similar defense before possible easements or eminent domain disputes.

Illinois is about to become a “highway for collecting CO2 pipelines [carbon dioxide] all over the Midwest,” energy attorney Paul Blackburn said during the webinar, presented by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. “Some people think these pipelines will stop climate change, but there are arguments about whether that’s actually true.”

Foundations laid in Illinois

Illinois’ only carbon dioxide pipeline so far is a short from an ADM ethanol plant to a sequestration site mostly on company land in Decatur, experts say.

In 2011, Illinois passed a carbon dioxide transport and sequestration law to facilitate the proposed FutureGen project, a multi-billion dollar proposal to store carbon dioxide underground at the site of a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia, Illinois. The federal government withdrew funding and the project died in 2015.

Under this law, the Illinois Commerce Commission must approve the route and overall plan of carbon dioxide pipelines. Pipelines must obtain federal permits from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. They must also obtain permits from the state promising to remedy damage to agriculture, including disturbance of drain pipes or soil.

Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures proposes to sequester carbon dioxide on 30,000 acres about a mile underground in the sandstone of Mount Simon. Navigator proposes to pay Illinois farmers for crop yield reduction for three years after pipeline construction, paying 100%, 80% and 60% each year.

Once pipelines get approval from the state commission, former Illinois Commerce Commission administrative law judge John Albers explained during the webinar, companies have the right to invoke eminent domain if necessary to avoid unnecessary delays or financial hardship. Residents and advocates at the meeting were concerned that these terms were too broad and could allow widespread use of eminent domain. They also expressed doubts about the adequate protection of farmland.

In 2020, a bill was introduced in Illinois, but did not advance, that would have allowed companies to go ahead with sequestration if 50% of affected porous space owners had it. approved.

Security risks

Blackburn, who has represented the Sierra Club and residents against the Keystone XL and other pipelines, outlined what he described as significant safety issues related to the transportation and storage of carbon dioxide.

He said that since carbon dioxide is transported in pipelines in a “supercritical” state between a gas and a liquid, it behaves differently than liquid petroleum or natural gas in the event of a spill. It decompresses from a gaseous to a liquid state, a process that can damage pipes and even lead to the formation of dry ice, which can cause serious damage and risk. Meanwhile, an increase in pressure as it changes from liquid to gas can “decompress” pipelines, tearing them apart, Blackburn said. And because supercritical carbon dioxide can dissolve hydrocarbons, it could corrode joints and pipe coatings.

“Oil is a liquid and it stays liquid, and natural gas is gas; it’s still gas,” Blackburn said. “But supercritical carbon dioxide is a funny hybrid and if not carefully controlled, it can switch between gas and liquid, which can be very dangerous.”

Oil and gas and carbon dioxide pipelines “are different creatures,” added Albers, who explained the law and state processes during the webinar. He expressed concern that state Commerce Commission experts did not have adequate experience with carbon dioxide pipelines.

“If the staff doesn’t have the expertise to assess these pipeline projects, I recommend you have it,” he said, suggesting that citizen groups hire engineers, public health experts and first responders to influence the proceedings of the commission. “It is your right as citizens, and you will certainly be affected by it whether it is on your property or near your property.”

Since the Commerce Commission has not yet approved the project, the company behind the pipeline is not yet allowed to approach landowners seeking access to their land and subsoil. Webinar speakers said they heard rumors of company representatives approaching residents and advised residents to report any such contact to state authorities.

“We are in the initial stages of this work and have been working on it for less than two months,” said Pam Richart, co-founder of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, which advocates for a just and clean energy transition in the state. . The coalition also plans to organize landowners, elected officials, emergency responders and other stakeholders “to do what we can to form the groups so that we can be ready to respond” to the commission.

Learn from Iowa and Indiana

In Indiana, the state legislature on March 2 approved HB 1209, which creates a process for businesses to seek landowner approval and compensate landowners for storing carbon dioxide in underground pores. The bill – pushed by BP – requires landowners to be compensated for porous space, but also allows them to operate under their land if at least 70% of affected landowners approve.

Another Indiana bill, pushed for years by Wabash Valley Resources, failed the legislature, much to the relief of farmers and citizen observers. It does not compensate landowners and specifies that the company’s liability can only be incurred in the event of proven damage to the concrete.

The Indiana Farm Bureau opposed the Wabash Valley Resource bill because it required farmers to prove any damages and did little to compensate them for the use of their underground property, Jeff said. Cummins, associate director of political engagement for the bureau. The agricultural office was neutral on the bill that was passed.

“If the company is going to sequester the carbon dioxide in the pore space underground, the farmer and the landowner should have the right to monetize the pore space, because the company certainly will,” Cummins said. “We certainly talk a lot with our members about opportunities for above-ground carbon sequestration,” such as incentives for no-till agriculture. “These contracts [for subsurface sequestration] should work much the same way.

During the Illinois webinar, Iowa blogger and landowner Jessica Wiskus described her outrage and that of her neighbors at the proposed use of eminent domain for the Navigator Pipeline, which would move to about a mile from his land.

Wiskus said the pipeline would go within a few hundred yards of “where my ancestors are buried” and would also endanger “ball diamonds, historic buildings, Native American mounds and even schools.”

She noted widespread reports that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline damaged soils during its construction in Iowa, and feared the Carbon Pipeline could do the same.

“The soil we have here is irreplaceable – Mother Nature took thousands of years to make it, but the pipeline would undo all of that,” she said.

Richart cited the Iowa Residents Organization around the pipeline as urging Illinois residents to learn more about the proposal and get involved in Commerce Commission proceedings. The Eco-Justice Collaborative, Sierra Club and other partners are urging Illinois residents to visit a website they created to oppose carbon dioxide pipelines and refuse to allow pipelines under their lands.

“Do not sign this volunteer easement,” Richart said during the webinar. “You will have time to sign when you decide what is right for you, but we are not there yet. …We are not alone here in Illinois, there has been a lot of work going on [in other states] before we even notice it.