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Saturday, August 19, 2023

Contacts: Hannah Lee Flath, hannahlee.flath@sierraclub.org, 860-634-0225
Lan Richart, coalition@noillinoisco2pipelines.org, 773-556-3417

Survivors of Mississippi CO2 Pipeline Explosion Urge Illinois to Protect People from Potentially Deadly CCS Projects

“People were almost suffocated, emergency vehicles wouldn't start due to massive CO2 cloud,” survivors say

PEORIA, IL -- Today, survivors of the 2020 Satartia, Mississippi pipeline rupture shared harrowing stories of the pipeline rupture that blanketed their community in CO2—an asphyxiant that rendered community members unconscious and hindered first responders’ ability to find and assist victims.

Survivors shared their cautionary stories through a series of panels in Peoria, Illinois, which faces the possibility of a CO2 pipeline being constructed within blocks of homes, businesses, schools, and churches if the Illinois Commerce Commission approves Wolf Carbon Solutions’ petition. Survivors of the CO2 pipeline rupture in Satartia urge Illinois to pump the brakes on projects like Wolf Carbon Solutions’ proposed pipeline and enact regulations that protect communities, land, and the environment.

“I was exposed to carbon dioxide after the CO2 pipeline near my home in Satartia, Mississippi, ruptured—carving a 40-foot crater in the ground and sending a dense, noxious cloud of CO2 into the air. I was found unconscious, barely-breathing, and in the fetal position in the front of a car,” said Debra’e Burns, a Satartia resident. “My neighbors and I were essentially a case study that resulted in disaster. Instead of learning from this disaster, corporations like Wolf Carbon Solutions are attempting to push CO2 pipeline projects forward before the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) updates its safety and oversight rules. It’s unconscionable.”

The disaster in Satartia prompted PHMSA to initiate a rule-making process, which is expected to be completed by October 2024, to improve rules and regulations regarding CO2 pipelines. While PHMSA completes rule-making, advocates and residents urge lawmakers to protect Illinoisans from the growing threat of CCS projects by using state-of-the-art computational fluid dynamics modeling to identify impact areas and safe setbacks, providing recurring training for first responders, and more. Denbury Inc., which operates a network of CO2 pipelines including the one that ruptured in Satartia, used a modeling program that indicated a pipeline rupture wouldn’t reach or impact local residents. They were wrong. When the rupture occurred, sheriffs’ deputies, volunteer firefighters, and hospital staff had to operate on intuition because none of them had received emergency training in CO2 leaks.

"For fire and law enforcement responders, public safety is what we do. Whether it's an accident on the interstate or a pipeline rupture, we will jump into action. That's why it's so important that all first responders, including law enforcement, understand the potential dangers of these pipelines and aren't blindsided by the hazards of CO2," said first responder Jerry Briggs. "With the network of CO2 pipelines potentially expanding across the country, what happened in Satartia could happen in anyone's backyard. First responders need recurring training, all communities affected by CO2 pipelines must have access to a mass notification system, and community members should be well informed. CO2 pipelines might be out of sight underground, but they can't be out of mind."

During the panels, Peoria residents and advocates fighting the proposed Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline raised the alarm that the proposed route is close to homes and businesses in urban Peoria. In addition, Wolf Carbon Solutions originally proposed including a spur line in the pipeline route that would run through Peoria’s southside, which is an environmental justice community. Though the spur line wasn’t included in Wolf’s June application to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the company stated that they could file a revision to their map and plans at any time.

"Wolf Carbon Solutions' proposed CO2 pipeline might include a spur through the Southside of Peoria. That should be of concern to every Peorian, not just Southside residents," said Daurice Coaster, Peoria resident and founder of the Southside Peoria Nourish Group. "Of the thousands of Southside Peoria residents, likely less than 10 percent of them know that this proposal has been made. If local residents who will be directly impacted by the pipeline don't have a seat at the table, our concerns about the volatility of the hazardous pipeline won't be heard. It's not a matter of if something goes wrong, it's when. I urge all Peorians to refuse to sign documents they receive from Wolf Carbon Solutions and join us in the fight to stop this dangerous project."

Dan Zegart, the investigative journalist and senior investigator at the Climate Investigations Center whose exposé on the incident in Satartia prompted PHMSA to promise to issue new safety standards for CO2 pipelines, joined the panels via Zoom. Zegart has spent the past three years highlighting the experiences of first responders and victims to expose the hazards and lack of regulations on CO2 pipelines. 

“This is an issue that unites us because everyone—regardless of your political affiliation, geographic location, or your stance on carbon capture and sequestration—is at risk,” said Dan Zegart. “From farmers, to landowners, to city dwellers on the Southside of Peoria or in rural Satartia, we are united in the fight against these deadly pipelines. I urge the federal PHMSA and Illinois General Assembly to heed our warning calls, and put a stop to these projects once and for all.”


Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines
The Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines is a growing coalition of Illinois environmental groups, landowners, and residents concerned about the environmental, economic, and the unprecedented safety hazards associated with building a network of CO2 pipelines across the state. The coalition believes the mad rush to build these pipelines as part of the technology called carbon capture and sequestration is dangerous and a false solution that will keep Illinois reliant on fossil fuels.

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