Contrasting safety views aired on sixth day of Navigator CO2 pipeline hearing

August 3, 2023

Joshua Haiar

FORT PIERRE, S.D.–Opposing sides debated the safety of the proposed Heartland Greenway pipeline Wednesday during the sixth day of a permit hearing at the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre.

Navigator CO2’s application to construct a pipeline carrying compressed carbon dioxide has some people worried about a leak.

The project includes “a laundry list of techniques” to ensure safety, according to William Byrd, president of RCP Inc., a pipeline consulting firm with a focus on federal regulations. And while Navigator CO2 has been late responding to some requests from regulators and has not yet completed all of its safety analyses, Byrd said it’s not “surprising to me that those things are going to continue to evolve.”

Joshua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight reports that South Dakota is the first state to hold permit hearings on the 1,300-mile, five-state pipeline proposal. The company says that’s a sign it still has plenty of time to complete all necessary safety measures.

Byrd said the state’s three elected public utilities commissioners, who will ultimately vote on the permit, are really deciding on whether or not they “trust the operator” and trust the federal regulations that are already in place.

Brian Jorde, representing landowners along the proposed pipeline route, argued the answer to those questions is “no.” He said the company has never built a carbon pipeline, and federal regulators are currently reviewing their pipeline safety rules – a development that caused California to put a pause on the construction of carbon pipelines in that state.

The federal review follows a 2020 leak and carbon dioxide plume from a pipeline in Mississippi that led to the evacuation of approximately 200 residents and the hospitalization of 45.

The planned $3 billion pipeline would capture carbon dioxide emissions from 21 ethanol and several fertilizer plants. The gas would be liquefied and transported for underground storage in Illinois or for industrial uses such as oil extraction or dry ice. The project is eligible for up to $1.3 billion in federal tax credits annually, for removing carbon from the atmosphere that would otherwise trap heat and contribute to climate change. The pipeline route would run through 112 miles of eastern South Dakota, in Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner counties.

Company spokespeople earlier testified that federal regulators are aware of the project and have not reached out with concerns. The company found the annual likelihood of a leak or rupture to be 1% per 1,000 miles, based on federal data over the last 20 years.

Navigator CO2 has negotiated easements with about 30% of affected landowners and has offered an average of $24,000 per acre for rights to cross private land. The company has not yet used eminent domain, a legal process for obtaining access to land when landowners won’t grant it.

The hearing is scheduled to continue through Saturday, and a decision by the Public Utilities Commission is due by Sept. 26.