Safety concerns for Bismarck area dominate first Summit carbon pipeline hearings
The North Dakota Public Service Commission on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, held its first hearing on the Summit Carbon Solutions' Midwest Carbon Express pipeline.
BISMARCK, N.D. — Karl Rakow lives in a low area east of Bismarck, with a house near the route of a planned carbon capture pipeline.
He said he talked with his wife about having to get scuba gear in case of a rupture, because carbon dioxide finds low areas, potentially robbing the air of breathable oxygen.
Rakow was among the Bismarck area residents that waited all day Tuesday, March 14, to testify at the first North Dakota Public Service Commission meeting on the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline that would run east and north of Bismarck, where new housing developments are popping up.
Rakow and others cited the 2020 rupture of a carbon pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi, where more than 40 people were hospitalized.
Summit Carbon Solutions, the Iowa company behind the pipeline, says it has conducted rupture simulations but has yet to share those findings with the North Dakota Public Service Commission or with landowners along the route.
Jimmy Powell, chief operating officer for Summit Carbon Solutions, said Summit will share its models with the PSC.
When asked if the state’s 500-foot setback from inhabited structures was far enough in the event of a puncture of a hazardous liquid pipeline, Powell said, “We’re comfortable with the risk associated with that.”
The Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline, called the Midwest Carbon Express, would collect greenhouse gas emissions from 32 ethanol plants in five states, with the goal of reducing the carbon footprint for those plants and help them get a premium price for their corn-based fuel in markets with a clean fuel standard, such as California.
Summit would benefit from federal tax credits for carbon storage.
But what Summit has called the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project has been met with resistance from some landowners.
Summit is trying to obtain voluntary easements from landowners. Powell said that so far, Summit has about 64% of the pipeline miles in North Dakota.
“Landowners have different issues — some, it's all about safety and that concern, and so we do our best to address and avail those concerns. And when they sign a voluntary easement, I mean, the assumption is that they're comfortable,” Powell said. “Some are just concerned about their crop yield. Some are concerned about reclamation … some are concerned about their property values.”
Asked if those landowners who had signed easements had seen Summit’s plume models, Powell said, “No.”
In afternoon testimony, Summit officials said the only other group that has seen the plume mode is staff with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, the equivalent of the PSC in that state. The South Dakota PUC will hold hearings later this year on the Summit pipeline.
The federal agency that regulates pipelines, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, will be given the plume model, but it doesn’t make that information public, in part because pipelines could be a terrorism target.
Without voluntary easements, Summit may be granted by a court the right to use eminent domain to force landowners to provide right-of-way for the pipeline.
The North Dakota PSC must approve the route for the pipeline, while the state’s Industrial Commission would approve a separate permit for the storage area in Oliver and Mercer counties.
Tuesday's hearing started at 8:30 a.m., but with testimony and questions for Summit officials and experts, public testimony didn't begin until 7:30 p.m. and was still going at 9 p.m.
During the hearing, Powell was questioned at length about safety, route alternatives and construction by attorney Randy Bakke, representing landowners in the Bismarck area who opposed the pipeline.
Bakke brought up the rupture in Mississippi and quoted reports that 45 people were sent to the hospital. But Powell maintained that by federal pipeline safety standards, only one person was injured.
Powell touted the overall safety record of pipelines and the fact that a carbon pipeline has been operating safely in North Dakota.
Bakke noted that the existing CO2 pipeline did leak in Canada, where the liquid carbon dioxide is used for enhanced oil recovery.
While the carbon dioxide that Summit would gather from ethanol plants has potential industrial uses, this project treats the CO2 as a waste product, Bakke argued.
When Bakke asked about the benefits of the pipeline to the residents of North Dakota, Powell pointed to how it will benefit the Tharaldson Ethanol plant in Cass County and the farmers who sell corn to it.
“The Tharaldson plant produces a significant amount of ethanol, employs a significant amount of employees ... and they contribute to the GDP of the state. They're also one of the largest ethanol plants on our network,” Powell said.
So far, the Tharaldson plant is the only ethanol plant in North Dakota signed on to the Summit project. The other 31 plants are in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.
An ethanol plant at Fergus Falls, Minnesota, also is part of the project and a feeder line from the Tharaldson plant at Casselton and the Green Plains ethanol plant at Fergus Falls would connect to main trunk in south-central North Dakota.
The main trunk would run east and north of Bismarck before crossing the Missouri River to the underground storage area.
Powell said Summit already has spent $100 million on route changes, including moving the route farther east of Bismarck to be outside the city’s planned area for future economic development.
Powell said significant changes to the route were not likely. “As I sit here today, the route is the route subject to PSC approval,” Powell said.
When first announced, Summit described it as a $4.5 billion project. Powell said Tuesday that it is now a $5.5 billion project.
Summit had originally planned to obtain permits in 2022, begin construction in 2023 and be operational in 2024. It so far has not obtained any permits. Powell said Tuesday that it hoped start construction in North Dakota late this year and be operational late in 2024 or 2025.
Four hearings have been set for this spring on Summit's pipeline permit application with the North Dakota PSC.