Errors and missing info highlighted as carbon pipeline hearing continues

August 4, 2023

Joshua Haiar

FORT PIERRE, S.D.–Public utilities commissioners denied a motion to withhold a permit for a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline Thursday, but they acknowledged lacking some useful information from the company applying to build it.

It was the seventh day of a hearing at the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre, with more days to come.

Navigator CO2 is the company seeking to build the 1,300-mile, multi-state Heartland Greenway pipeline.

Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen – one of the three elected commissioners tasked with deciding on a permit for the project – asked why the commission is expected to make such a consequential decision, “yet there are errors, we’re missing stuff.” She was referring to a number of incomplete safety, cultural and environmental surveys, and errors that have appeared in some of the information given to the commission.

An attorney for the commission, Kristen Edwards, asked the company, “Why didn’t Navigator wait to file for a permit until more surveying was completed?”

Representatives of the company said they have ample time for more surveys, thorough analyses, and communication with impacted communities. South Dakota is the first state to hold hearings on the five-state proposal.

The projected $3 billion project would capture emissions from 21 ethanol and multiple fertilizer plants, and compress the gas into a liquid form for transport. It would then be injected underground or used for industrial and commercial purposes, such as in oil extraction or as dry ice. The project would be eligible for $1.3 billion annually in federal tax credits for combating climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon. It would span 112 miles in five South Dakota counties: Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner.

Brian Sterner, an environmental consultant and soil biologist, testified Thursday that he and a colleague “share the concern” that permitting the project prior to the completion of all the environmental analyses may be premature.

Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing impacted landowners, cited those issues and the company’s earlier failure to provide timely notice to 204 affected South Dakotans along the would-be-route. He moved to deny the permit.

The three commissioners rejected the motion.

“There are still things we need to learn,” said Commissioner Chris Nelson. “We need all the facts on the table.”

Negotiations have produced easements with 30% of affected landowners, with the company offering an average of $24,000 per acre, according to company officials. Navigator has not yet used eminent domain, a legal process for gaining access to land when a landowner won’t grant it.

Carbon pipeline regulations are currently under federal review in response to a 2020 Mississippi pipeline leak and carbon dioxide plume that hospitalized 45 people. That triggered California to halt the construction of new CO2 pipelines in that state until the federal review is complete. Navigator CO2 has testified that federal regulators are aware of the project and haven’t voiced concerns.

The company’s analysis shows an annual 1% risk of a leak or rupture per 1,000 miles.

Hearings are scheduled to continue through Saturday, and the commissioners’ decision is due by Sept. 26.

Another multi-state carbon pipeline that would cross parts of eastern South Dakota, proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions, is scheduled to have its permit hearing Sept. 11-22.