Farmer concerns and support surface at Summit carbon pipeline hearing
The North Dakota Public Service Commission on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, met in Gwinner, North Dakota, for its second hearing on the Summit Carbon Solutions' Midwest Carbon Express pipeline.
GWINNER, N.D. — Benjamin Dotzenrod says he doesn’t want to drive over a hazardous liquid carbon dioxide pipeline with a heavy piece of farm equipment.
Dotzenrod described for the North Dakota Public Service Commission in a hearing on the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline on Tuesday, March 28, how air pockets can develop underground in farm fields where drain tile has been broken and repaired.
“These air pockets eventually collapse,” said Dotzenrod, who farms land in Richland County that is in the path of the planned Summit Carbon Solutions carbon pipeline. “I would like to avoid expensive equipment in excess of 50,000 pounds from falling onto an operating pressurized carbon dioxide pipe.”
Such a collapse under a piece of heavy equipment could lead to a rupture of the pipeline below, he said. That would be considered a “third party strike,” meaning he would be responsible for the carbon dioxide leak and its potentially lethal consequences.
“We are here today because we have something in common we want — to see this pipe placed on a route that minimizes impacts to North Dakota landowners, homeowners, employees, business owners and volunteer emergency workers,” Dotzenrod said. “We also want to have good chances this pipeline operates normally without interruption, without unintentional third party strikes. That the integrity of this pipe is preserved after installation. That it does not adversely impact environmental quality.”
He said he has asked Summit Carbon Solutions to alter its route around the field that he farms, one with drain tile and unstable soil that he says could be subject to “heaving."
“It is clear current routing does not minimize impacts to North Dakota landowners,” Dotzenrod said.
Tuesday’s was the second PSC hearing on the Summit pipeline, which would connect 32 ethanol plants in five states to an underground storage site in western North Dakota.
While the first hearing in Bismarck focused largely on public safety for the growing residential areas east of Bismarck, the second in Gwinner focused more on the affects — positive and negative — to farmers.
While some, like Dotzenrod, were concerned about safety, liability and lost production, others testified that they support carbon capture and storage as a way to keep the ethanol industry and corn growers healthy.
Kevin Skunes is a farmer from Arthur, North Dakota, north of the only North Dakota ethanol plant on the pipeline route, Tharaldson Ethanol at Casselton. He’s also a former president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association and a current board member of the group. He said he was asked by Summit to testify.
“Corn production provides a total annual economic value of about $2.2 billion here in North Dakota, making it one of the most critical components of our broader ag economy,” Skunes said. “Of course, ethanol is very much tied to this figure.”
Summit has said the $5.5 billion pipeline project is essential to ethanol plants to allow them to sell fuel for a premium price in low-carbon fuel markets such as California.
“Regardless of what you may think of the concept of low-carbon fuels, it's clear that the marketplace is moving in this direction,” Skunes said.
Bruce Speich is a landowner in Sargent County who said he has signed an easement agreement with Summit. Summit announced on March 27 that it has about 70% of the needed easements along the pipeline route in North Dakota.
“I do believe in this project,” Speich said. “Safety is probably my biggest concern that Summit does what they promised with safety issues and stuff.”
Where there have been no deaths related to carbon pipelines in the U.S., a rupture in Sartatia, Mississippi, in 2020 sickened more than 40 people. Summit Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Powell said Tuesday it will assess the emergency response needs of counties along the route and help provide any equipment needed to respond to an emergency.
Some landowners along the route have refused to sign an easement, even though it would provide some compensation for lost crop production. 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.
Randall Walloch is a farmer and rancher who’s house is less than a mile from the planned route and the area where he does his calving is even closer.
“By putting a pipeline in, it would destroy fertile topsoil and cause severe compaction which will decrease yields for years, or forever,” Walloch said.
Lyle Bopp is a Sargent County commissioner who said he has signed an easement with Summit. But he also has concerns about a possible leak. He said Sargent County was given safety assurances by the developers of the Keystone oil pipeline, which has leaked in nearby areas.
“That's the concern I have with the pipeline here as I listen to a lot of assurances, but I also heard those same assurances with the Keystone Pipeline,” Bopp said.
Unlike the first hearing that went for more than 12 hours and still did not get to all the testifiers, Tuesday’s hearing was wrapped up by early afternoon.
At the end of the hearing, commissioners set June 2 to have a second hearing in Bismarck.
The next hearing is 9 a.m., April 11, at the Harry Stern and Ella Stern Cultural Center at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton for Cass and Richland counties.
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.