ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

U.S. Midwest carbon pipeline has secured less than 2% of key Iowa route, filings show

If Summit fails to secure a route through voluntary agreements with landowners, it would have to resort to using eminent domain, a controversial legal tool that allows the government or its agents to take over land for the public interest.

Carbon storage presentation
A group gathers to learn more about the Summit Carbon Solutions plan to store carbon from ethanol plants underground at a site northwest of Bismarck, North Dakota on Nov. 18, 2021. A rig for drilling a storage well is in the background.
Craig Bihrle / Special to Agweek

Landowners in Iowa have been slow to cede their property rights to a 2,000-mile (3,219 km) proposed carbon dioxide pipeline that would cut through the U.S. Midwest, an analysis by Reuters has found.

Summit Carbon Solutions said last month it had negotiated easements with hundreds of landowners along the pipeline route, marking a major advance for what it hopes will become the world’s largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) project.

But in Iowa, the state that would host the largest section of the proposed line, the company has reported just 40 land easements, covering just 1.9% of its 703-mile traverse, according to a database maintained by the Office of the Iowa County Recorder and analyzed by Reuters.

The discrepancy raises questions about Summit’s progress in securing a route for the $4.5 billion project, dubbed the Midwest Carbon Express, which would transport carbon dioxide siphoned from ethanol processing facilities in five Midwestern states to North Dakota for underground storage.

The company says the project will create jobs and combat climate change by helping biofuel producers to decarbonize. But many landowners worry the project could also damage farmland and impact human health in the event of a leak, according to Reuters interviews and a review of public comments filed with state regulators.

ADVERTISEMENT

A map of the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline project
A map of the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline project as it travels into Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Troy Becker / The Forum

If Summit fails to secure a route through voluntary agreements with landowners, it would have to resort to using eminent domain, a controversial legal tool that allows the government or its agents to take over land for the public interest.

On Feb. 1, Summit issued a news release in which its CEO, Bruce Rastetter, said, "we’ve had early success signing hundreds of pipeline easements with farmers who have a vested interest in our success."

But as of Feb. 22, the date of the most recent available filings in Iowa, Summit had recorded only 40 easements containing 68 tracts of land and covering 13.6 miles of the pipeline route, according to the data reviewed by Reuters.

The four other states along the pipeline's route — Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota — do not publish statewide easement records.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between its public statements and the land records, Summit told Reuters that the Iowa database does not reflect the most recent easement total due to administrative and other delays.

The company said it has paid over $17 million to landowners along the pipeline route so far, and that negotiating the rest of the route will take a year or more.

“Summit Carbon Solutions has already signed on several hundred parcels of land along the Iowa route, and many more across the five-state footprint of the project,” said Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Powell.

While Summit is not legally required to file the easement records, the filings protect the company from a future buyer or renter of the land claiming they were not aware of the easement and challenging it, said Wally Taylor, an environmental attorney who represents the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, which is opposed to the pipeline.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You’d think they’d want to record these to prove what they’re saying,” he said.

Approval in Iowa is particularly significant to the project because the state produces a quarter of the nation's corn ethanol, a fuel blended into gasoline. The Summit pipeline promises to drive down ethanol’s carbon intensity and make it a more competitive climate-friendly fuel.

Don Tormey, spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board which handles pipeline permitting, said there have been approximately 868 public comments filed about the Summit project in the state.

Tormey said the IUB does not track the number of supportive and opposing comments, but a Reuters review of the comments found that the overwhelming majority — 98.9% — are opposed to the pipeline.

Many landowners are concerned that the pipeline would reduce their land value, damage underground drainage systems and present a safety risk in the case of leaks. They also object to Summit’s potential use of eminent domain.

“When you have a large number of landowners refusing to sign easements, that should send a loud message that this project is not wanted,” said one recent comment.

Summit has said it will restore the land over the pipeline to its prior condition and compensate landowners for the first three years of reduced crop yields.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

ADVERTISEMENT

Read more on the Midwest Carbon Express:
The Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solution's proposed Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would be the world's largest carbon capture system, coalescing emissions from ethanol plants around the region and shipping it to North Dakota for permanent storage. But as the project picks up steam, it has prompted concern among landowners and environmental groups.
Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, an offshoot of Summit Agriculture Group, is behind the $4.5 billion Midwest Carbon Express project, with the goal of sending 12 millions tons of CO2 annually to western North Dakota, where it can be stored underground. It would be the largest carbon capture project in the world.
The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would gather carbon from ethanol plants in five states and send liquid carbon dioxide to western North Dakota for underground storage.
The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would gather carbon from ethanol plants in five states and send liquid carbon dioxide to western North Dakota for underground storage.
The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions will gather carbon from ethanol plants in five states and send it to western North Dakota for underground storage. It is adding Northern Plains Nitrogen, a planned ammonia plant near Grand Forks, North Dakota, to the project.
The main trunk of Summit's Midwest Carbon Express pipeline is planned to run from Iowa, through South Dakota to western North Dakota, where liquid carbon dioxide can be pumped underground for permanent storage.
Minnesota is looking at changing its pipeline approval process. Currently the only pipelines governed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission are petroleum pipelines.
The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 16, announced at the beginning of its meeting that it had pulled a bill that Summit Carbon Solutions had said would stop the project "dead in its tracks."
Oil developer Continental Resources says it can lend its expertise on the geology of North Dakota, where greenhouse gases from 31 ethanol plants will be stored underground. Summit Carbon Solutions is behind the $4.5 billion project.
Enhanced oil recovery uses pressure to force oil toward the production well. One of the ways to create that pressure is to pump in carbon dioxide. Summit Carbon Solutions has a plan to capture carbon from ethanol plants and send it to western North Dakota, but the company says it is for permanent storage, not the oil industry.
The findings are off particular interest now as two major pipeline projects are in the works in Iowa. Summit Carbon Solutions said there will be some differences in the construction of its carbon capture pipeline.

What To Read Next