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Final public hearing on CO2 pipeline touches on landowner, union concerns
Final public hearing on CO2 pipeline touches on landowner, union concerns

Landowners brought concerns about disruptions to their properties, and a labor union questioned the track record of a pipeline installer as North Dakota regulators on Friday held their final scheduled hearing on a planned regional carbon dioxide pipeline.

Meanwhile, developer Summit Carbon Solutions has filed a motion with state regulators asking them to declare ordinances passed by Burleigh and Emmons counties amid debate over the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline to be null and void.

The state Public Service Commission on Friday held the last of five public hearings on Summit’s planned pipeline to transport 12 million metric tons of climate-warming CO2 emissions from dozens of ethanol plants in five states to an underground site in western North Dakota’s Oliver County. That amount is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of about 2.7 million gasoline-powered vehicles over a year’s time, according to an Environmental Protection Agency converter.

The three-member PSC has held public hearings across the state on the 320-mile pipeline route through Burleigh, Cass, Emmons, Logan, McIntosh, Morton, Oliver, Richland, and Sargent Counties, as it prepares to decide whether to approve the North Dakota portion of the route. It scheduled Friday’s hearing after a March 14 hearing in Bismarck ran long and not everyone who wanted to speak got an opportunity.

Summit Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Powell was in the building Friday but didn’t testify despite calls for him to do so, saying that he previously testified four times.

“I’ve testified at the previous four hearings in Bismarck, in Linton, in Gwinner, in Wahpeton, and Mr. Jorde has had an opportunity to cross-examine me for several hours,” Powell said of Brian Jorde, an attorney representing farmers and landowners who on Friday sought to question Powell during the hearing.

Powell also provided written testimony.

Landowner concerns

The pipeline would cross northern Burleigh County, less than 2 miles from Bismarck’s extraterritorial area at its closest point. Some area residents and officials believe the pipeline presents safety concerns, could diminish property values, and could impede the northward and eastward progression of Bismarck.

Landowners who testified Friday cited many of the same concerns that have been raised at previous hearings, ranging from a potential devaluing of their property to environmental concerns.

Landowner Marilyn Bryan highlighted potential problems related to insurance coverage on her 504 acres of land a couple of miles northeast of Bismarck. She said her insurer would not cover damages or provide an attorney in the event of a pipeline accident or leak.

Summit has said easement agreements provide clauses that the company will hold landowners harmless and provide compensation for any loss, damage, or claim resulting from the project.

The policy does not extend to landowners if pipeline damage is caused by willful misconduct or gross negligence. Bryan said she would have to fight any claim or allegation that her action or inaction led to a rupture or leak and that she has seen no options for pipeline coverage for herself.

Michelle Herbel said she and her husband, who own 120 acres north of Bismarck, are discussing leaving the community because of the pipeline.

“This proposed pipeline is a dangerous death wish,” she said, adding, “There will be a break, there will be a leak, and how many people are going to die?”

Summit touts the overall safety record of the thousands of miles of CO2 pipelines that have operated in the U.S. for decades, including in western North Dakota. The company also maintains that most property owners impacted by the project support it. The company has negotiated easements with 2,750 landowners across the Midwest on its current route, leading to 4,500 easement agreements being signed. This accounts for around 1,400 miles of the proposed pipeline, Summit spokesman Jesse Harris told the Tribune.

Harris said that Summit has worked with landowners at every step of the process, adjusting the route around 3,000 times to account for various wants and needs.

Union concerns

Research Manager Lucas Franco at LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota, a labor union representing workers from the two states, testified that the union supports the project but has concerns with Summit working with Texas-based Pumpco Inc., one of the companies contracted to build the pipeline.

The other firm is Precision Pipeline, a Wisconsin-based company that has worked on several projects in the Upper Midwest including Dakota Access. The union does not take issue with the contracting of Precision Pipeline.

LIUNA had filed a motion to compel Summit to provide information on Pumpco. Administrative Law Judge Hope Hogan on Thursday rejected the plea, saying in part that she thought the two parties “could work through the discovery issues if they met and conferred.”

Franco did not directly suggest that union labor should be used on the project, but he argued that there would be economic losses if only a small proportion of the labor force on the project was local.

“We found that local pipeline construction workers contribute roughly four times more over the short term to the local economy and five times more over the long term,” he said.

Franco said his analysis showed that in projects in Texas, Pumpco used only about 15% local labor, and he reasoned that the number would be smaller outside of the firm’s home state.

He also pointed to recent past incidents involving Pumpco that he found to be of concern in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission documents given to the commission.

“FERC documented impacts resulting from contractor failure to keep construction within the approved right of way,” Franco said. “I also found a concerning case where a local water authority had to take legal action following damage to irrigation canals that were apparently caused by pipeline construction.”

A representative from Pumpco’s answering service told the Tribune that there was no one in the office Friday to offer an immediate comment.

Local regulations

Carbon capture and storage projects have taken on increased importance to state and industry leaders as North Dakota seeks to keep current energy production in line with new emission standards in several markets. State Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms recently anticipated there will be six carbon storage projects across the state a year from now.

Gov. Doug Burgum has set a goal of reaching carbon neutrality in the state by 2030, mainly relying on carbon storage projects. Burgum argues the state’s geology allows for a greater deal of carbon storage. Carbon neutrality involves striking a balance between the CO2 released from within the state and the number of emissions contained or offset in some way.

These projects also are receiving support from Washington. The federal Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022 offers numerous tax incentives for carbon storage. North Dakota was the first state given primacy for carbon storage by EPA.

Opponents of carbon capture argue it is a costly technology that has not yet proven an ability to reduce emissions to the degree that supporters claim it will. They also point to safety concerns, highlighting potential health risks as CO2 is colorless, odorless, and an asphyxiant that displaces oxygen. Since CO2 is heavier than air, it can stay near the ground if leaked, potentially spreading undetected.

Some North Dakota counties including Emmons and Burleigh have passed ordinances regulating hazardous liquids pipelines within their borders in response to the Summit debate.

The Bismarck City Commission has weighed in as well, unanimously siding with those calling to move or delay the construction of the pipeline.

Summit in a Thursday filing asked the PSC to declare that the Burleigh and Emmons regulations conflict with state and federal law and are “superseded and preempted.”

“These ordinances, which contain setbacks and other safety-related measures, would frustrate if not outright halt investment in North Dakota’s carbon capture, utilization, and storage industry, which would undermine a key driver of the North Dakota economy and be inconsistent with the state’s policy of ‘promote (ing)’ the geologic storage of carbon dioxide,'” attorney Lawrence Bender wrote.

Burleigh County Commissioner Brian Bitner testified Friday that “We’ve developed ordinances based on public input, not kneejerk reactions to anything.”

He said that with past controversial issues in the county, there have been residents outspoken on both sides.

“This is a completely different thing,” he said. “This is 100% of the citizens that are presenting to us, that are not affiliated with the company, have been opposed.”

A group of Burleigh County residents including former Bismarck Mayors Steve Bakken and John Warford; the head of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental group; and Bitner in April launched a petition that asks officials to ensure that the CO2 pipeline is safe. The petition has gathered over 1,600 signatures, according to group organizer Dustin Gawrylow.

Developer worries

Bismarck-area developers including Chad Wachter, Chad Moldenhauer, and Joe Hillerson also have challenged the pipeline in its current route, arguing it will hinder Bismarck’s growth as the city expands to the north and east.

Summit has pointed to an analysis produced by Boulder Appraisal to counter claims of future development problems. The document argues market data indicates houses built near pipelines have not suffered stigmatization in buyer’s preferences.

Hillerson on Friday said he doubts that the document is accurate, arguing a homebuilder would have better knowledge of land valuation than an appraiser.

“It does stigmatize those properties to a certain extent,” he testified. “What extent we can’t exactly say. I don’t have an exact figure or anything like that; however. I can tell you that it is being talked about and it’s not a positive conversation, it’s a negative one.”

Summit in an analysis submitted this week at the request of the PSC said it ruled out a potential route south of Bismarck for several reasons, including geological challenges, the number of “sensitive and historic” lands in the area, and the potential impact to tribal lands. The Dakota Access oil pipeline sparked heavy protests during its installation in that region a few years ago.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Archeologist Tyrell Iron Eyes testified Friday that moving the pipeline route south of Bismarck would place it in treaty territory.

“All the comments (from other testifiers) regarding generational ranchers, generational farmers — my people have been here a millennium before that and coast to coast … you are in a site of significance to my people,” he said.

Supporters of the pipeline, such as Burgum, have argued that Bismarck, and the state more broadly, host a number of pipelines that have not hindered development.

“If we try to get 4 miles away from all of these other pipelines, half of Bismarck would have to get up and move,” he told the Tribune last month.

Federal regulations

Some area landowners and officials want the PSC to delay a decision on permitting the pipeline route until new federal safety regulations for CO2 pipelines are in place.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is updating rules in the wake of a CO2 pipeline operated by Denbury Gulf Coast Pipelines rupturing in Satartia, Mississippi, in 2020. PHMSA conducted a two-day public meeting on CO2 pipeline safety this week in Des Moines, Iowa. Landowners at the meeting called for a federal moratorium on carbon capture pipelines until regulations are updated.

A notice of proposed rulemaking is expected in October 2024.

Summit has said that it has factored the administration’s Satartia Failure Investigation Report into its plans.

Harris, the Summit spokesman, said current regulations are comprehensive enough to build and operate a safe pipeline.

“We believe that every one of these pieces of our project utilizes technology that is longstanding, that is proven, that is reliable,” he said.


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