116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / State Government
Regulator: CO2 pipelines safe, but have risks
Iowa lawmakers hear from federal expert before Wednesday vote
DES MOINES — Ahead of a key vote on a bill putting eminent domain restrictions on proposed carbon capture pipelines in Iowa, a federal regulator told lawmakers the projects are largely safe, but are not without risks.
Linda Daugherty — an administrator at the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates hazardous liquid pipelines — told lawmakers the agency works aggressively to regulate the projects and that leaks, though they happen, are rare.
“The actual number of incidents that have impacted people, it's very rare,” Daugherty told the House Environmental Protection Committee on Tuesday.
Of 101 reported pipeline failures since 2001, one person required hospitalization as a result, she said.
Still, she said, pipelines are not without risk.
In large quantities, carbon dioxide can be an asphyxiant. That was the case in 2020, when a pipeline ruptured, dropping a cloud of carbon dioxide onto the small town of Satartia, Miss., prompting the evacuation of more than 200 people and requiring dozens to seek medical attention.
That incident prompted the federal body to update its rules governing CO2 pipelines, including rules related to emergency preparedness and response. The new rules are expected to be finalized within the next two years.
“We are strengthening our CO2 regulations, not because we don't have strong regulations but because we are continually learning,” Daugherty said. “We have to learn from what we saw in Satartia.”
Carbon dioxide pipelines are a flashpoint in this legislative session, galvanizing a coalition of landowners opposed to the use of eminent domain and environmental activists who contend the projects will be used to prop up fossil fuels without making a meaningful dent in carbon emissions.
Opponents have frequently brought up safety concerns as they urge lawmakers to block the use of eminent domain for the projects.
Three pipeline companies have requested permits from the Iowa Utilities Board to build pipelines in the state: Navigator CO2 Ventures, Wolf Carbon Solutions and Summit Carbon Solutions. Navigator and Summit have indicated an intent to use eminent domain for the projects, while Wolf said it does not plan to.
Jess Mazour, the conservation program coordinator for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the groups leading opposition to the pipeline, said she thought Tuesday's presentation was fair and gave lawmakers a good understanding of the potential risks of carbon dioxide pipelines.
“Understanding how these pipelines can rupture and what happens when they rupture, is really important for people to know,” she said “... I think it’s pretty clear that we need to make sure that our communities are safe before we just go and approve these projects.”
Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, a spokesperson for Navigator, said the company is working with local stakeholders and emergency medical services along the proposed route to prepare for any potential rupture. She also said the company plans to exceed current regulations when building the pipeline.
“Everything that she talked about today (are) things that we’ve been talking about since Day One,” Burns-Thompson said of Daugherty’s presentation. “And in many cases where she highlighted things that they’re looking at for additional developments in rule-making, we have also proactively incorporated.”
The proposed pipelines would shuttle carbon dioxide captured from ethanol plants to reservoirs deep underground, taking advantage of federal tax credits intended to incentivize carbon emission reduction.
The ethanol industry says the projects are necessary for the continued survival of Iowa’s ethanol plants and would keep corn prices high for farmers.
House to vote
The House is expected to vote on House File 565 on Wednesday, a bill that would require CO2 pipelines to obtain 90 percent of the miles of the route through voluntary easements and provide some compensation protections.
An amendment filed Tuesday would strip a requirement in the bill that pipeline projects be paused until the new federal regulations are announced, as well as requirements that pipelines be in line with all local zoning rules and obtain permits in other states before being granted a permit in Iowa.
The measure is spearheaded by more than 20 House Republicans, including House Speaker Pat Grassley, who say eminent domain should not be used to build for-profit projects for private companies.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a news conference Tuesday she has not spoken with House leadership about the bill.
Opponents of the pipeline companies, along with sympathetic lawmakers, are planning a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday ahead of the vote on the bill.
“We want them to have to look at us while they vote to make sure that they vote yes, and that they’re representing us and not the pipeline companies,” said Mazour of the Sierra Club.