Concerns over CO₂

Landowners, environmentalists and farmers voice concerns about proposed pipeline project

Kathleen Campbell doesn't want to see a pipeline carrying pressurized, liquid carbon dioxide – which can cause suffocation – installed underground less than a football field away from her home in rural Sangamon County.

"How do you go to bed at night knowing you might not wake up in the morning?" Campbell, a Glenarm resident, asked. "If the pipeline ruptures, we're dead in a minute."

The 70-year-old retired research scientist is among a growing number of landowners, environmentalists and farmers voicing concerns and organizing to oppose the $3 billion Heartland Greenway pipeline.

 The 1,300-mile pipeline, proposed by Texas-based Navigator CO₂ Ventures to run through five Midwestern states – including a 240-mile section in Illinois – hasn't been built.

But Navigator spokeswoman Elizabeth Burns-Thompson said the company, backed by the BlackRock global investment firm, is preparing to file applications with state regulatory bodies and intends to file with the Illinois Commerce Commission by May. A decision from the ICC could come in 2023, and pipeline construction could begin in 2024, she said.

The steel pipeline, ranging in diameter from six to 24 inches and five feet underground, would receive CO₂ emitted by ethanol and fertilizer plants in South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. The CO₂ would be dehydrated, liquified and put under pressure before entering the pipeline.

It would be the first major project of its type in Illinois and would pass through 13 counties in the state – Sangamon, Hancock, Adams, McDonough, Henry, Knox, Fulton, Schuyler, Brown, Pike, Scott, Morgan and Christian.

All of the pipeline's branches would converge to bring the CO₂ to Christian County, where it would be injected more than a mile underground and below layers of limestone, dolomite and sandstone for 30 years in a 30,000-acre area north of Taylorville. The CO₂ would be permanently stored there at the culmination of a process known as "carbon capture," Burns-Thompson said.

Navigator, which has held informational meetings in communities potentially affected by the project since fall 2021, contends the pipeline and the CO2 sequestration site would be safe, wouldn't harm underground water supplies and would be a boon for the environment.

The company says the up to 15 million metric tons of CO₂ to be captured annually would be equivalent to the carbon-dioxide emissions from 1.8 million homes' energy use or the consumption of 34.7 million barrels of oil.

Burns-Thompson said the company would take care not to damage croplands and would reimburse farms for between 60% and 100% of any crop losses each year, over a three-year period, in exchange for paid easements.

And if anyone experiences yield losses beyond that, at any point throughout the life of the project, "We are committed to making landowners/farmers whole," a company spokesman said.

Champaign resident Lan Richart, co-director of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, an Illinois-based nonprofit, said the installation of pipelines always causes damage to croplands, "much of it permanent, due to the mixing of topsoil and subsoil ... and unavoidable compaction by heavy equipment."

Burns-Thompson said Navigator would serve ethanol and fertilizer companies wanting to reduce the amount of climate-changing CO₂ they put into the atmosphere.

"Heartland Greenway is a pro-farmer project that supports the intersection of agriculture and energy that will help our customers," Navigator says in promotional materials. "As currently planned, the storage field for Heartland Greenway will utilize up to five injection wells spaced one to two miles apart that would support storage of 5 million tons of CO₂ per year," the company says. "There is the potential for the project to expand up to 15 million metric tons. Above ground, landowners will continue to use their land as they always have."

The Illinois Farm Bureau hasn't taken a position on the proposed project.

But opponents say the project and ongoing operations of a pipeline carrying CO₂ – which settles along the ground in concentrated form, doesn't disperse immediately when released and can cause suffocation – would be riskier for the land and people than Navigator is portraying.

They pointed to the rupture of a CO₂ pipeline in Mississippi in 2020 that sickened dozens of people.

They say the project would be riskier than the oil and natural-gas pipelines upon which many pipeline safety guidelines are based, and rural emergency responders aren't equipped to handle a rupture.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels and increasing work on clean-energy alternatives such as wind and solar power would be better than focusing on the unclear value of CO₂ pipelines for the environment, pipeline opponents say.

They also don't like the pro-pipeline argument that CO₂ sequestration and its related federal incentives for ethanol producers to reduce their carbon footprint would benefit farmers through higher corn prices.

Opponents worry that a 2011 state law enacted to spur the now-defunct FutureGen project in Morgan County would clear a legal path for Navigator to seize property for the pipeline through eminent domain if the ICC grants a pipeline permit.

"We're going to be like the garbage can for the other states," said Joyce Blumenshine, a Peoria resident who is a member of the Illinois-based Coalition to Stop CO₂ Pipelines.

"Right now, the answer is not carbon capture," she said. "It is deflecting the public's attention ... from the change that we need to make."

Blumenshine and other pipeline opponents are encouraging landowners not to grant voluntary easements. Navigator is prohibited by law from making easement offers until a permit application is filed.

Burns-Thompson said eminent domain is "not something that anyone wants to be utilized. We want a project that not only we are proud of, but all of the farmers we work with are proud of."

Separate from easements for the pipeline, Tenaska, a company working on behalf of Navigator, is approaching Christian County landowners to offer them money for underground CO₂ storage rights.

Such activity is allowed through the federal regulatory process that governs CO₂ sequestration.

ICC spokeswoman Vicki Crawford said in an email, "From what we know, this project would appear to be a first-of-its-kind project for the commission, but nothing has been filed with the agency, so there is not much for us to share."

Richart said he is "concerned that the Heartland Greenway pipeline is but one link in what is destined to be an extensive network of pipelines connecting the Midwest to other points south to Texas and the Gulf Coast, where CO₂ can and will be used for 'enhanced oil recovery.'"

If that happens, he said, any carbon reduction in the air would be offset by the production of more fossil fuel.

Burns-Thompson said in an email that the Heartland Greenway project "will not coincide with any area where EOR (enhanced oil recovery) is taking place."

She said Navigator's customers have contracted with the company only for the permanent sequestration of CO₂, and those customers would qualify for federal tax credits only if the CO₂ they produce is permanently sequestered.

Education of the public about the project is just beginning, Richart said.

Opponents may try to persuade the General Assembly to rescind the section of state law that declares CO₂ pipelines to be a "public use and service," "in the public interest" and "a benefit to the welfare of Illinois," he said.

The current statutory language automatically grants pipeline developers authority to take land without requiring any showing of need related to a specific parcel, according to John Albers, a lawyer who previously worked as an ICC administrative law judge.

It's not clear whether such a broad, general grant of eminent domain authority is constitutional, because the statute has never been challenged in court, he said.

It's also unclear whether state law would give businesses developing a CO₂ pipeline eminent domain authority to seize land for the storage of CO2, Albers said.

Christian County farmer Mark Roth, whose home and land sit over the CO₂ sequestration site, said he opposes the project because of the safety concerns and the potential long-term damage to farmland.

He also believes there are better uses for federal tax dollars to protect the environment than by promoting CO₂ pipelines.

"The taxpayers are basically funding this operation," he said.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-679-7810.