Summit carbon pipeline still on track, aims to boost regional ethanol, ag economies
Safety, land grabs among concerns from the public
MITCHELL — Plans for a proposed pipeline that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants across the midwest to a permanent storage site underground in North Dakota are on track, according to officials with the project, but there remains some pushback from members of the public.
That was evident during an educational panel hosted by the South Dakota Farm Bureau at Dakotafest on Tuesday morning in Mitchell, where representatives from Summit Carbon Solutions, Glacial Lakes Ethanol, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and landowners converged to express their thoughts on the project.
The project aims to increase the competitiveness of South Dakota and neighboring states’ ethanol plants by helping lower its carbon dioxide emissions and carbon intensity score, which would open ethanol sales from those plants to markets that require low-carbon product, such as California.
The project consists of 2,000 miles of pipeline and 32 ethanol plants in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, with 469 of those miles and seven ethanol plants in eastern South Dakota. The pipeline would capture the carbon dioxide released during the fermentation process that creates ethanol and transport those emissions to a site west of Bismarck, North Dakota, where the pressurized, liquified carbon would sit deep underground.
The group Tuesday gave overviews on details and answered questions taken from the audience. Jim Pirolli, chief commercial officer for Summit Carbon Solutions, told those in attendance the main goal is to keep the ethanol industry strong as the world moves toward lower carbon standards.
“When we reduce the carbon intensity (CI) part of ethanol, it makes it more competitive in carbon fuel markets. That makes the ethanol plants more competitive and provides better economics that flow back in (the form of) higher corn prices, and also economics for the whole system,” Pirolli said. “On average that will equate to $1 million annually in property taxes per country.”
For Glacial Lakes Energy, which operates ethanol plants in South Dakota and was represented on the panel by its chief executive officer, Jim Serure, it means a windfall that will help land its footprint in untouched markets, returning on the investment of its shareholders while continuing to boost the ethanol and general agricultural community.
“We support this project because liquid fuels are under assault, particularly gasoline. We may not see it much in this area, but when we start to travel outside the area, the advent and popularity of electric vehicles is real,” said. “So we feel we have to stay relevant and stay important and come up with solutions. And producing a lower carbon-intense product is our way of staying profitable, returning more profitability to our shareholders and also being more competitive in the market buying the 125 million bushels of corn we buy every year.”
But there are concerns from members of the public. Jay Poindexter, a landowner and farmer from the Ree Heights area, was a member of the panel and said he shared concerns with many landowners who live and work along the path of the project. Those concerns include potential use of eminent domain by a private company to secure land for the private project and foreign investment and ownership issues.
Safety, he said, is perhaps the most obvious issue. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and a leak could conceivably cause a blanket of the gas to suffocate people or animals that get caught in its path. Safety on the project should be ensured by the company building it, Poindexter said, but more work must also be done on making sure there are uniform setbacks and regulations in place at the local level.
“Everybody knows pipelines have a potential to rupture. This pipeline runs within 300 feet of some people’s houses and livestock. Through articles I’ve read, there are certain models that show the plumes of this gas can go out for half a mile. It could literally kill everyone in this plume if the CO2 level gets high enough,” Poindexter said. “I think our counties and local boards need better setbacks, especially near schools, nursing homes and hospitals.”
Pirolli said while the project may be new, the pipeline technology has come a long way over the decades, and Summit Carbon Solutions intends to employ the latest in safety measures. There are thousands of miles of carbon dioxide pipeline operating in the United States.
“There are 50 operating pipelines and 5,000 miles overall, we’re just putting all those components together in this. It’s all very safe, it’s going to have the latest safety monitoring equipment and comply with updated regulations or exceed them,” Pirolli told the Mitchell Republic following the panel.
Poindexter also said he had concerns about the potential use of eminent domain to secure land from landowners unwilling to sign easements to use their land for the pipeline. Eminent domain, often used for public works projects such as interstate highways or public utility projects, should not be used by a private company, he said.
“No eminent domain for private gain,” Poindexter said.
Pirolli said the company has no desire to use eminent domain to secure a path for the pipeline, and does not use that process to obtain land surveys. However, the number of easements signed by landowners is going up, he said.
“That is a point that is way down the road in the process. Right now we are acquiring easements from landowners. So far we’ve signed over a third of the route, about 700 miles across the system, and we’re gaining momentum exponentially on that,” Pirolli said. “There is a process for getting surveys, and it’s not eminent domain. We have not requested that for any property.”
The company is in the process of securing easements and applying for construction permits in South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and North Dakota.
Pirolli said the company is looking at securing all permits by the spring of 2023 and having completion, operation and commissioning in 2024. He says it is on track with that schedule, but there is work to do.
“We have quite a bit of work ahead of us, but we didn’t get into this because we thought it would be easy. We thought there would be challenges and hard work ahead,” Pirolli said. “What’s most important is looking into the future and having an opportunity to make a very important industry much more sustainable. It’s not just about ethanol and fuels, but also the feed products produced and the downstream buyers of those products and where they’re going in the world. Because clearly there is a demand for lower emission products.”
Seurer agreed, stating that support for projects like the pipeline will do one very important thing — keep the regional ethanol industry strong. That, in turn, will keep the general agriculture-based economy of South Dakota strong.
“Keep corn ethanol relevant,” he said.