EVs and $9,000 Air Tanks: Iowa First Responders Fear the Dangers—and Costs—of CO2 Pipelines

County officials say they’d need millions of dollars to buy the equipment required to safely carry out rescue operations amid a CO2 pipeline rupture, which can suffocate people and stall engines. But who’s going to pay?

LAWLER, IOWA – NOVEMBER 1, 2023: Volunteer firefighter and volunteer first responder Jack Orvis drives a fire truck out of the Lawler Fire Station in Lawler, Iowa on Wednesday November 1, 2023. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

From outdated equipment and evacuation plans to a lack of personnel and training, some Iowa first responders say they would be unable to safely carry out rescue operations in the case of a major carbon dioxide pipeline rupture. Many Iowans fear such a disaster is increasingly likely as developers, spurred by more than $12 billion in federal incentives, propose to build lengthy CO2 pipelines across the Midwest.

Among the handicaps emergency personnel would face if responding to a rupture is a lack of funding for the kind of equipment they say is necessary to safely navigate the unique threats posed by carbon dioxide pipelines, including CO2 plumes released during a failure that could have an especially large and difficult to detect danger zone.

When a carbon dioxide pipeline ruptured in 2020 in Mississippi, it released a massive cloud of the gas that traveled more than a mile into the nearby hamlet of Satartia, sending 45 residents to the hospital and prompting the evacuation of 200 others. That’s because CO2 is heavier than air and acts as an asphyxiant in high concentrations. Read more