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Can Road Crossing Permits Be Used to Stop Navigator ...
OR at Least Improve the Safety of Navigator's Pipeline?

by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative
June 20, 2022

Navigator Ventures CO2 plans to build 240 miles of CO2 pipeline through Illinois as part of a larger 1,300-mile project that would build CO2 pipelines though five Midwestern state. Navigator has not yet filed its petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission, which ultimately has the authority to approve or deny the project. In an effort to prepare for building the pipeline, should they receive approval from the ICC, representatives of Navigator have been approaching counties and townships along their Illinis route to ask about roadway crossings. Local governments that have jurisdiction over local roads will need to issue public utility permits before Navigator can auger and then place their CO2 pipeline under those roads.

Why is this important to know?  Eminent domain that could be granted by the ICC (assuming the project is approved) won't apply to  county and township roadway rights- of-way. That's because eminent domain is for taking private property (for the “public good", with just compensation). These roadways and associated rights-of-way are publicly-owned. But counties and townships have the ability to approve, deny, or approve these public crossings with conditions via their public utility permitting process.  This public utility permit / roadway crossing approval process is a good tool for counties and municipalities to use while they also are discussing zoning moratoriums that would protect residents from the hazards of CO2 pipelines and help counties that do not have zoning.

Why Should Townships and Counties Act to Regulate CO2 Pipelines?
They are extremely dangerous and under-regulated. In fact, the Pipeline Hazardous Material and Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced on May 26, 2022, that there is a need to improve safety measures and provide additional oversight for CO2 pipelines.  PHMSA also announced at this time that it would be taking enforcement action against Denbury Gulf Coast Pipeline because of its pipeline failures in Satartia, Mississippi. Currently it is the CO2 pipeline developer / operator who decides how  a rupture will be prevented through pipeline design and the distance between safety values.  That distance affects the intensity of the explosion and distance CO2 will travel. We saw how Denbury's design of its CO2 pipeline near Satartia, Mississippi, resulted in a rupture that spread over a mile away., exposing residents and first responders in Yazoo county to toxic CO2. This rupture required the evacuation of 200 people; hospitalized 49; and  left emergency and personal vehicles sputtering due to the  lack of oxygen, rendering rescue and escape nearly impossible.   

Remember -  building the number of miles of CO2 pipelines proposed is new. There are no CO2 pipelines in Illinois (except for the one that serves the ADM plant in Decatur that is less than a mile long), and only 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines in the entire country. Those are MUCH shorter length, and typically start  from a natural source of CO2 and transport that to an oil well for enhanced oil recovery. Given the recent announcement by PHMSA and the intensity of the rupture in Satartia, townships and counties should not be expected to approve a pipeline that has been determined to be unsafe and under-regulated by the federal government.  So what can they do?

Photo courtesy of H & H Boring Company

Update those Public Utility Permit Applications Now 
Here is something local governments can do, now, before Navigator officially approaches them for a public utility permit for a road crossing. there is time to act on this, since Navigator has not filed its petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission.  This update would be in place for ANY CO2 pipeline proposal, and we know that there are two more underway (ADM / Wolf Carbon Solutions and one by Occidental Petroleum, route not yet disclosed). Those updates could include measures that address some of the flaws  and safety concerns raised by PHMSA in their May 26 , 2022 press release, such as:

    • Notification to residents and people in other occupied buildings (businesses, institutions, schools, etc.) near the roadway crossings that a CO2 pipeline is nearby.
    • A system in place that would  ensure residents and communities next to these crossings are immediately notified of any potential threat (e.g., a leak or rupture that was detected) so that they could begin to evacuate the area.
    • Written procedures for how Navigator would respond to emergencies, including guidelines for ensuring quick and effective communication with emergency responders.
    • Procedures for addressing integrity threats to the pipeline due to changing climate, geohazards, and soil stability issues.
    • Routine inspections of the crossings (rights-of-way) to  provide an understanding of the environmental conditions surrounding its facilities that could pose a threat to the safe operation of the pipeline.

Why these Suggested Updates Are Feasible and Necessary
A county government or township highway commission already takes into consideration damages associated with the auguring under local roads; the use of local roads by heavy equipment during construction; removal of vegetation; soil compaction; altered drainage, and more. They also ought to be able to take into consideration the hazards of CO2 pipelines and ask Navigator to explain what they intend to do to mitigate those risks. This is especially important because Navigator has not, to our knowledge, built any CO2 pipelines. In other words, they are proposing to build a dangerous, under-regulated pipeline, without any experience - at least at the scale proposed.

Given the magnitude of the risks, could townships and counties withhold issuing a public utility permit until PHMSA's rule-making process has been completed?  Perhaps, but that should be discussed with an attorney. Deciding not to take any action, however, allows Navigator to move forward with its risky experiment without any safeguards or precautions in place.

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