116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
3 proposed CO2 pipelines in Iowa would add more than 3,000 miles
The federal agency that monitors pipeline safety needs to update its rules for carbon dioxide pipelines, given plans for 3,000 miles of new CO2 pipelines across Iowa and other Midwestern states, according to a new report.
“The country is ill prepared for the increase of CO2 pipeline mileage being driven by federal (carbon capture and storage) policy,” consultant Richard Kuprewicz wrote in the March 23 report commissioned by the Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Wash. “Federal pipeline safety regulations need to be quickly changed to rise to this new challenge, and to assure that the public has confidence in the federal pipeline safety regulations.”
More miles of pipeline
There are about 5,000 miles of CO2 pipeline already underground in the United States. Most of those pipelines supply CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, which involves injecting CO2 into spent oil wells to get the last bits from the ground.
But when Congress in 2018 approved tax credits for carbon sequestration as a way to reduce greenhouse gases causing climate change, entrepreneurs looked to build new pipelines. Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions/ADM each have announced proposals to build underground pipelines that would carry liquefied CO2 from ethanol plants in Iowa to underground sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois.
The Iowa Utilities Board has primary jurisdiction over routing and siting of hazardous liquid pipelines — an approval process playing out now in Iowa.
The projects have been contentious with more than a dozen county boards of supervisors opposing the potential use of eminent domain to secure easements for the pipelines. Hundreds of landowners on the pipeline routes have filed written objections.
But the state board is not responsible for safety of pipelines as they are built or during operation. Those duties are performed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
There is federal law for pipelines that transport hazardous liquids, which include petroleum products and liquefied gases like CO2.
Different pipeline purpose
But Kuprewicz, a Washington State-based engineer who serves as a pipeline regulatory adviser, incident investigator and expert witness, said in the March 23 report these regulations do not specifically address CO2 pipelines used for carbon sequestration.
“Even though the situation is about to change dramatically, PHMSA has not proposed to review and overhaul its CO2 pipeline standards, such that these limited regulations are still in effect today,” the report states. “As a result, many of PHMSA’s regulations no longer are adequate to protect public safety.”
For example, carbon capture pipelines could ship CO2 as a gas or non-supercritical liquid, but the law regulates only pipelines that transport supercritical CO2 containing over 90 percent CO2 molecules, the report states.
The supercritical state is a fluid state where the CO2 is heated and held at or above its critical temperature and pressure.
“Clearly the sources and needs of CO2 for (enhanced oil recovery) are not the same as those for the (carbon capture and storage) objective, which is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere,” the report states.
Kuprewicz would also like to see the pipeline administration require more of pipeline companies, such as adding an odorant to the CO2 — which otherwise is colorless and odorless — so that if there’s a leak it can be detected.
Adequate regulation, company says
A February 2021 CO2 pipeline explosion in Mississippi sent 45 people to the hospital as the gas, which is heavier than air, asphyxiated people and caused car engines to stop because there wasn’t enough oxygen.
Chris Hill, director of environment and permitting for Summit Carbon Solutions, said some of the findings in the March 23 report were “completely false.”
“We feel the regulations as they are currently are adequate for pipelines like the Summit Carbon pipeline’s system,” he said Friday. “There doesn’t need to be drastic changes.”
The federal pipeline administration reviews all phases of pipeline development and can audit companies to make sure they are following regulations, Hill said.
Summit’s plan calls for transporting CO2 in a supercritical state with at least 90 percent CO2 molecules. The company is willing to discuss adding an odor to the mix, but doesn’t think it’s necessary, he said.
“A lot of these discussions are going to play out and we will have those conversations as part of the permitting process,” Hill said.
Hill said Iowans who read the March 23 report should keep in mind it was commissioned by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit that has been critical of pipeline operators.
The group’s website says it promotes pipeline safety “through education and advocacy by increasing access to information, and by building partnerships with residents, safety advocates, government, and industry, that result in safer communities and a healthier environment.”
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