LWV UMRR Board members are engaged and active people who are leaders in other organizations besides LWV and speak out about issues affecting water and climate! This column by Kay Slama, LWV UMRR Board member, is an opinion piece originally published in the Lakes Area Review, New London MN in August, 2023.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines carry highly compressed (supercritical) CO2. The proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline would run through southwest MN, carrying CO2 from ethanol plants to North Dakota to be buried underground. The federal Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act give credits for carbon sequestration, awarding our tax dollars for private companies to build carbon pipelines. Because it would keep carbon out of the atmosphere, you’d think this would be a good thing, right?
But wait—there are loads of problems with carbon pipelines, see www.carbonpipelinesmn.org and www.carboncapturefacts.org. The North Dakota Public Service Commission denied Summit’s siting permit application for underground sequestration, citing many issues that the company had not addressed adequately. Until ND allows the pipeline, the MN Public Utilities Commission should pause its permitting for the pipeline, since there’s no place for the CO2 to go. Unfortunately, on August 31, the PUC refused to make that reasonable decision, and we need to let them know that was unwise for Minnesota.
What about human safety? CO2 is an asphyxiant—it keeps our lungs from getting oxygen when we breathe. CO2 pipelines must be pressurized at three times the rate of a natural gas pipeline (1,200-2,800 psi). Ruptures can occur for a number of reasons. One cause of ruptures can be shifting ground, whether from flooding or the ground sinking as water is used for irrigation. According to the Pipeline Safety Trust, many chemical impurities can get into the line. Any water molecules in the pipeline react with CO2 to form corrosive carbonic acid.
Ruptures have occurred in carbon pipelines, causing human and animal deaths. CO2 is heavier than air, and its unpredictable flow depends on terrain and changing weather. Without wind, it may just find low spots and sit there for a long time. National Public Radio and other media reported on a pipeline rupture in Mississippi that caused 45 people to be hospitalized. It kept cars and emergency vehicles from working because combustion engines need oxygen. Emergency responders need breathing apparatuses that cost more than $6,000 apiece, so they would have to call in a specialized hazardous materials team. The planned carbon pipeline routes run close to homes, towns, and schools, so the CO2 plumes could reach them. The federal agency responsible for CO2 pipeline standards is reviewing them in light of the dangers. These are more reasons construction of carbon pipelines should pause while safety is being worked out.
Land issues need to be considered with carbon pipelines. Installation compacts a wide swath of soil that is almost impossible to loosen so roots can get into it. The pipelines heat land near 90 degrees, and both resulting evaporation and heat make it harder for plants to grow. Restoring soil health and productivity is a long-term struggle both current farmers and future generations will have to bear.
There are many stories about Summit bullying landowners and using misinformation to obtain easements across farm property. Easement payments to farmers last 3 years, but the easements are permanent, so landowners are vulnerable to other uses after the 20-25-year life of the pipeline. Pipelines tend to be abandoned in place after they are no longer useable, so they remain a permanent hazard on the property and its underground water flow. Iowa is considering using eminent domain to run CO2 pipelines through farmers’ lands without their consent. Under the Fifth Amendment, eminent domain must be for a “public use,” which traditionally meant projects like roads or bridges, not the enrichment of private corporations.
In the big picture, pipelines encourage growing huge amounts of corn in the US, nearly half of which is used to produce ethanol. This discourages growing alternate crops that may be better for our land, need less fertilizer and irrigation, and send less pollution down our rivers and into our lakes.
Next are water issues. The buried carbon pipelines cross rivers and wetlands underground, which can puncture aquifers during construction, as we saw with the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern MN. In addition to water used during construction, the pipelines will require 13,000,000 gallons/per facility using the pipeline per year (from Summit’s response to inquiry on water usage during Minnesota PUC 5/4/2023 scoping meeting). This constitutes a risk of drawing down our lake and river levels and aquifers.
Energy issues: Much energy is needed to mine materials for carbon pipelines, which must be much thicker than any other kind to contain so much pressure. Much fuel is required to put the pipelines in the ground. Energy sources process the gases and condense CO2 at its sources, as well as run the pumps and bury the carbon. There is evidence that making ethanol out of corn is a life-cycle process that may use more CO2 than it saves. We have alternative land-use programs that encourage natural plants which sequester CO2, as well as encourage more wildlife and pollute less. On top of that, a ND official admitted that pipeline CO2 will be used to compress fossil fuels out of the ground, a process known as fracking, which will put more CO2 in our atmosphere and cause more of the climate change effects we’ve been seeing so much lately.
So what can we do? We need to think ahead for our climate and our agriculture. We should be spending our “public” money on helping farms move away from growing so much corn. Help farmers feed people rather than make carbon-intensive ethanol, and help them diversify. We need to create markets in MN for their crops. It will take regular input to our lawmakers and state agencies to help them act with this future in mind.
We need to do all we can to address the excess carbon that is warming our planet and causing global climate change. Carbon sequestration may indeed be one of the solutions, but not by crisscrossing our land with potentially unsafe pipelines that will threaten our land and waters and almost certainly lead to fracking for more fossil fuels.
We need to focus on making our climate better, not worse.
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