Scope of environmental review an early issue for carbon pipelines in Minnesota
Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions says its $4.5 billion pipeline project will help ethanol plants, including the Green Plains Ethanol plant at Fergus Falls, Minnesota, lower their carbon scores. The project aims to capture greenhouse gas emissions and pipe the CO2 to western North Dakota for underground storage.
One of the first things Minnesota regulators will have to deal with in the carbon pipeline permit process is determining the scope of the environmental review that is needed — a topic on which environmental groups and industry have vastly different perspectives.
A Minnesota environmental group, Clean Up the River Environment, or CURE, is asking the state to do an environmental assessment worksheet for a carbon capture pipeline proposed by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions.
That worksheet, or EAW, could lead to a more in-depth environmental impact statement or it could be decided that an EIS is not needed. The request is filed with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board but it is up to the state Public Utilities Commission to decide if an EAW is needed.
Summit Carbon Solutions has plans for a five-state $4.5 billion pipeline system that will take greenhouse gasses from ethanol plants and send it to western North Dakota, where it could be stored underground.
One of the 32 ethanol plants that could benefit from the pipeline is the Green Plains plant at Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
So far, Summit has only filed for a permit for the section of pipeline that would connect that plant to a larger pipeline in North Dakota. That 18-mile section of pipeline crosses through two Minnesota counties, Otter Tail and Wilkin, but Peg Furshong of CURE says the state needs to consider the impact of the entire project in Minnesota, even if a permit application only exists for a portion of it.
“This is clearly just a portion of the project, whether they've only permitted a portion is not the issue. The PUC would be be naive … to think that the footprint of the project is not bigger. So they should do environmental review for the entire project,” Furshong said in an interview.
The rest of the project in Minnesota would connect five other ethanol plants in west-central and southern Minnesota to a main pipeline branch in Iowa. That section would run through Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Martin, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties in Minnesota.
Comments can be made on the Summit permit filing, docket number 22-422, with the PUC until Nov. 21.
In a Nov. 1 letter filed with the docket, Will Seuffert, executive secretary of the Minnesota PUC, says the commission will likely hold a public meeting in late 2022 or very early in 2023 to simultaneously determine whether the Summit application should be accepted as complete and what to do with the petitions for an EAW.
Summit says the pipeline, called the Midwest Carbon Express, will benefit ethanol plants by allowing them to sell their corn-based fuel for a premium price in California and other markets with a low-carbon fuel standard.
Devin Mogler, a vice president for Green Plains, in a letter submitted as a public comment to the PUC docket that includes the pipeline permit application, said “it is critical that we take the steps necessary to ensure the ethanol and agricultural industries remain competitive not just today but in the years and decades to come.”
The letter also says “Specifically, we believe that the environmental review of the project should follow Minnesota Chapter 216G.” Following that process would not require an environmental assessment.
A letter from John Oestmann, CEO of Granite Falls Energy, one of the other Minnesota ethanol plants on the route, says it would be grateful if the PUC were to follow Minnesota Ch. 216G, for environmental review “as is typical for pipeline route applications, warranting no additional steps or process to be added.”
CURE also has petitioned for an environmental assessment worksheet for the Navigator CO2 Ventures pipeline project, called the Heartland Greenway. It also is a five-state project with the liquid carbon dioxide to be piped to Illinois. It includes one Minnesota ethanol plant, Valero Renewable Fuels in Welcome, near the Iowa border.
Navigator has yet to file for a permit in Minnesota but has responded to the call for an EAW, saying that PUC's authority makes an EAW unnecessary.
“Navigator CO2 will be required to provide the MPUC with an analysis of the human and environmental impacts related to preparation, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Project, including, and not limited to, human settlements, natural areas, wildlife habitat, water, recreational lands, and lands of historical, archaeological, and cultural significance. … Potentially requiring an EAW … would be duplicative, inefficient and time-consuming,” according to a letter from Elizabeth Schmiesing, an attorney with Winthrop and Weinstine, filed with the PUC docket .
In other carbon pipeline news:
- In comments on the Minnesota permit filing, several landowners have submitted letters revoking any permission granted to Summit Carbon Solutions to do survey work for the pipeline. Surveying access has been a point of contention along several points of the pipeline.
- Among the letters of support for the Summit pipeline in Minnesota are letters from the chamber of commerce in Marshall, Minnesota, and the chamber serving the Fargo, North Dakota, area.
- Summit Carbon Solutions says it has signed easement agreements for more than 51% of the pipeline route and 85% of the planned sequestration area in North Dakota. It says the project is on track to begin construction in the third quarter of 2023 and move into operations in 2024.