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GUEST COLUMN

Several reasons to pause permits for hazardous C02 pipelines in Iowa

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Three investment companies, Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator, and Wolfe Carbon Solutions (in partnership with Archer Daniel Midlands), are seeking permits to develop thousands of miles of fluid CO2 pipelines throughout our state. Their main selling point is the notion that Iowa’s ethanol will only remain competitive if it meets California’s strict low-carbon emission standards.

Even so, a recent vote in California will take CO2 emission standards to an even higher level by 2035 when the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles will be banned in the Golden State. Several more states have indicated plans to follow suit. With the transition to EV’s, demand for ethanol will fall, and the multi-billion-dollar C02 pipelines may become obsolete a decade after disrupting thousands of acres of Iowa farmland. This alone should make Iowa pause the permitting process.

However, the dwindling California market isn’t the only reason to suspend CO2 pipeline permits. Many important questions remain unanswered. Is Iowa’s power grid ready for the huge increase in demand needed to power the pipelines?  Have CO2 pipeline companies documented their claims of CO2 pipeline safety?  Are regulations in place to oversee CO2 pipelines? Simply put, the answer to all of the above is, “No!”  

As for the state’s power grid being ready to handle the electricity needed by CO2 pipelines, five Iowa counties, including Clay, Crawford, Hancock, Hardin, and Sioux, are slated to have pumping stations. Purportedly, the installed horsepower for motors and pumps at each of the five stations will range between 4,000 and 6,000 hp. In addition, the stations will need electric pumps, lights, and heating in buildings. 

Electricity for the pumping stations must be purchased from locally. Do our rural electric companies have adequate infrastructure in place to handle the massive increase in demand? If not, how is this problem being addressed? What are the long-term implications for existing customers?

Pumping stations will have battery backup to maintain communications equipment, the control center, and lighting in the event of a power outage.  However, the backup power is not designed to keep the pumps operating. What happens to highly pressurized liquid CO2 in the pipeline during an extended power outage that follows summer storms and winter blizzards in Iowa?

Liquid CO2 is labeled as a “toxic and hazardous” asphyxiant and caustic agent by OSHA. Yet, the pipeline companies continue to claim the CO2 in the lines is safe, even “harmless.” Even so, more than a year into the permitting process, Summit Carbon Solutions refuses to provide the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) with documentation of product safety.  Summit and the other companies need to submit risk assessments, research data that shows plume modeling (the distance toxic CO2 travels in the event of a pipeline rupture), and emergency response plans. Iowans deserve more than just taking the companies’ word that hazardous CO2 pipelines pose no risk to public safety.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently completed a two-year-long investigation into the CO2 pipeline failure in Sartatia, Mississippi, in 2020. PHMSA found the rupture happened when an underground CO2 pipeline shifted and broke. This break released a toxic C02 cloud that caused the town’s evacuation, 50 hospitalizations, and several life-long injuries. 

In the aftermath of Sartatia, PHMSA is writing new plans for oversight of CO2 pipelines. The agency will implement rules, including emergency preparedness and response requirements. The IUB should suspend all hazardous CO2 pipeline permit requests until PHMSA has new safety regulations in place and every CO2 pipeline company has submitted documentation showing they are in compliance.

California’s new electric vehicle standard is but one of several reasons to stop the “full steam ahead” approach to CO2 pipeline development. Too many questions remain unanswered: Can our electric grid handle the load?  Do hazardous CO2 pipeline companies have data to support their claims of product safety?  Are regulations in place to manage construction and operation in a way that best addresses public safety?  Iowa needs to pause hazardous CO2 pipeline permits until these critical questions are answered.  It’s time to stop and think through the ramifications of going forward with these nebulous projects.

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