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The Illinois Basin region which covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana, and western Kentucky with a storage capacity ranging between 12 billion to 172 billion metric tons of CO2. Source:  Prairie Research Institute. November 2020.

Why Carbon Pipelines?
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, 2021) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA, 2022), the federal government is making billions of dollars available to private corporations to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industrial sources. This requires transporting high-pressure, liquified carbon dioxide many miles from the industrial source to the site of storage, where it will be injected deep underground.

Geologists have determined that the Mt. Simon Sandstone Formation in the Illinois Basin provides one of the best locations for permanently sequestering carbon. That is why companies like Navigator CO2 Ventures, Wolf Carbon Solutions / ADM, and One Earth Sequestration, LLC are scrambling to take advantage of federal incentives to transport and store CO2 in Illinois.

Supporters of carbon storage, transport, and sequestration note that CO2 has been transported via pipeline for decades. Existing pipelines generally transport CO2 from a sole source to an endpoint, which may be an oil field where the CO2 is pumped underground in a process called “enhanced oil recovery” to force more oil in spent fields to the surface.

Many of the projects that have been proposed in response to the lucrative tax credits available through the IIJA and IRA are more complex. The first CO2 pipeline construction request to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) was part of a network nearly 1,350 miles long that would cross South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa before entering Illinois. Such a network would require managing a high-pressure network of CO2 pipelines, with numerous sources feeding into multiple off-take stations and injection wells. Some industrial sources may be located in populated areas. The properties of CO2 under pressure make it impossible to ensure safety in such an area. These projects are not the same as previous CO2 pipelines.

Why Oppose CO2 Pipelines?
CO2 pipelines are part of a larger system that includes carbon capture and storage. If the goal of carbon capture is to remove it from the atmosphere, then the entire process must be assessed for emissions. Carbon capture requires more energy to power the equipment and can increase emissions, while continuing to spew health-harming pollutants into the atmosphere. CO2 is an asphyxiant that can kill humans and animals if a pipeline leaks or ruptures, depending on the length of exposure. And there are no guarantees that the carbon sequestered will remain permanently stored underground.

There are many reasons why carbon pipelines, carbon capture and storage are not a good idea. Here are eight:

#1. CO2 Pipelines Aren't Safe
In order to transport the carbon dioxide via pipeline, it must be liquified under pressure three times the rate of natural gas. CO2 pipelines can, and do, rupture or leak. When this occurs, an explosive plume of CO2 gas can erupt that can travel a mile or more.Because it is an asphyxiant that is heavier than air and can accumulate in low-lying areas, the CO2 plume can suffocate all living beings, and prevent internal combustion engines in gas-powered vehicles from starting, making escape and rescue difficult or impossible.

A February 2020 CO2 pipeline rupture in Mississippi required the evacuation of more than 200 people and put 45 in the hospital.While no one died, many experienced life-threatening symptoms, and emergency responders had difficulty rescuing people.(Read “The Gassing of Satartia” (Huffington Post, August 2021.)

#2. Eminent Domain
The Illinois Commerce Commission will grant eminent domain if they approve a CO2 pipeline, and landowners will have no say over whether a carbon pipeline company can build through their property. This is particularly true in Illinois, because the state has adopted the Carbon Dioxide Transportation and Sequestration Act. As currently written, the Act establishes carbon capture as apublic good, a key criterion for enabling eminent domain.

The Illinois Commerce Commission may consider landowner objections to the pipeline based on safety, if many intervene in the ICC proceedings. For that reason, landowners should NOT SIGN A VOLUNTARY EASEMENT at this time. Doing so will waive future rights.

#3. Few Regulations Exist for CO2 Pipelines
Carbon pipelines are dangerous and under-regulated:

  • CO2 is an asphyxiant that can travel large distances at lethal concentrations from the pipeline after a rupture.
  • CO2 pipelines are prone to ductile fractures which, like a zipper, open up and run down a significant length of the pipe, while releasing immense amounts of CO2, hurling large sections of pipe, and generating enormous craters.
  • A small amount of water in a CO2 pipeline allows the formation of carbonic acid which can corrode the pipeline, causing a leak or rupture.

After investigating the CO2 pipeline rupture near Satartia, Mississippi, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration(PHMSA) announced a rule-making process to improve safety and oversight of CO2 pipelines. No projects should be consideredbefore the rule-making is complete.

#4. Damages to Topsoil and Reduced Crop Yield.
Productivity of cropland can be negatively affected by construction. A 2021 Iowa State University study of pipeline construction impacts associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline found “extensive soil disturbance from construction activities had adverse effects on soil physical properties, resulting from the mixing of topsoil withbackfill brought in for filling pipeline trenches; and soil compaction from heavy machinery.”

These impacts can discourage root growth and reduce water infiltration. The research team found:

"Crop yields in the right-of-way were reduced by an average of 25% for soybeans and 15% for corn during the first and second crop seasons, compared to undisturbed fields.”

#5. Construction of CO2 Pipelines On the Rise
Section 45Q of the Internal Revenue Code provides tax credits on a per-tonbasis to companies that successfully trap, sequester and store carbon emissions, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. InAugust of 2022, the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act increased these credits from $60 to $85 a ton for carbon stored underground, further accelerating the “mad dash” to build pipelines for corporate profit.

There are currently 5,300 miles of CO2 pipelines in this country. But projections from Princeton University indicate there could be as many as 66,000 miles of CO2 pipelines built across the country to meet the demand for carbon capture and sequestration,accelerating impacts and risk.

#6. For Landowners, It's All Risk and No Reward
Private corporations profit from carbon capture and sequestration via federal tax credits and low-interest loans. Landowners take all the risk, with little to no reward. While they are compensated initially for the use of their land, payments from pipeline companies do not begin to approach those that are received from wind or solar located on their farmland. Such renewable energy technologies either power a farm, residence, commercial / industrial property or feed into the grid. Or, if the land is leased by a solar or wind developer, landowners are paid annually in long-term, revenue-sharing agreements.

#7. Pipelines Extend the Life of Fossil Fuels
Instead of spending money to deploy renewable energy technologies more rapidly, billions of federal dollars are being spent to keep the fossil fuel industry in business. This is particularly true for projects thatinvolve “enhanced oil recovery,” which puts more carbon into the atmosphere when it is burned. We need to keep fossil fuels in theground to order to meet critical climate targets.

#8. Carbon Capture and Storage Hasn't Worked
Despite extensive public subsidies, 80% of the projects that have attempted to commercialize carbon capture and sequestration technology have ended in failure. Between 2005 and 2012, the Department of Energy spent $6.9 billion attempting to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS for coal, but less than 4% of the planned CCS capacity was ever deployed.

Why use taxpayer dollars to fund a CO2 pipeline system for a technology that has such a poor track record? Plus,  there is no proof that the carbon sequestered will remain permanently stored. The greenwashing that calls out CCS as a viable climate solution is setting dangerous policy by diverting funds from technologies that we know work.


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NOTE:  This post has been adapted from Mark Hefflinger’s Top 8 Reasons to Oppose Risky Carbon Pipelines. Bold Nebraska. December 22, 2021.