Counties are duty-bound to exercise local control of CO2 pipeline setbacks

Farm News
By Staff | Jan 26, 2024

To the editor:

As 2023 ended, CO2 pipelines topped the list of newsworthy items in Iowa. Heading into 2024, County Boards bear a heavy responsibility as they deal with pipeline ordinances while the state awaits the IUB’s decision on Summit’s permit application.

Summit likes to tout the fact that there are currently 2.6 million miles of pipeline in the United States, overlooking the inconvenient detail that only 5,300 of those miles carry CO2 in a hazardous supercritical state. No company has ever attempted a pressurized CO2 pipeline on the scale of Summit’s massive 2,000-mile route through populated areas.

CO2 under supercritical pressure is highly dangerous. If the pipeline breaks, the pressurized CO2 converts from a fluid to gaseous state as it escapes. This creates an odorless, colorless plume that is heavier than air. It becomes an asphyxiant such that normal breathing cannot be sustained within 2,753 feet from the rupture of an 8-inch pipeline. Summit plans to use 24-inch pipes in all eminent domain properties, increasing the risk.

At the first informational meeting in October 2021, Summit execs claimed a break would be inconsequential because the CO2 was just a “harmless gas that dissipates.” “It puts bubbles in your pop.” As landowners became more informed of the dangers and less willing to sign easements, the company’s tone shifted. Summit began to acknowledge the risk.

By the time Summit testified before the IUB last fall (two years later), the CO2 had evolved into a substance so dangerous that it is a national security risk. Citing the possibility of a terrorism threat, Summit refused to share its plume dispersion model, and did so only under pressure from landowner attorneys — and then only in closed session. The public has not seen Summit’s plume model.

Summit knows its CO2 pipeline is extremely dangerous, yet it continues to demand narrow setbacks as close as 200 feet from some homes. The company fights back fiercely against wider, safer setbacks in high-risk areas. Four Iowa counties (Kossuth, Shelby, Story, and Emmet) have passed ordinances, and others are in the process of doing so. Summit has sued, or threatened to sue, all of them, but the cases are either on appeal or await a decision.

In September, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sent a letter to CO2 pipeline CEOs informing them that the “… responsibility of siting new carbon dioxide pipelines rests largely with the individual states and countie ….” Furthermore, “Local governments have traditionally exercised board powers to regulate land use, including setback distances and property development that includes development in the vicinity of pipelines.”

Local control is paramount in the face of unbridled corporate power. Summit plays fast and loose with the facts. County Boards must exercise due diligence. They are duty-bound to protect their communities. Board members need to research CO2 pipeline safety and pass ordinances with safer setbacks as soon as possible. The IUB’s decision on Summit’s permit is imminent.

Bonnie Ewoldt

Milford, Iowa