The company Navigator CO2 announced on Oct. 20 it is nixing plans for a 1,300-mile pipeline to take carbon dioxide from ethanol plants across five states to be sequestered in Illinois.
While Illinois residents who have stridently opposed the pipeline celebrate, local leader Pam Richart said, they are wary another pipeline will be proposed to serve sequestration sites in the state that Navigator has not taken off the table. Illinois residents are continuing to push for a state moratorium on carbon dioxide pipelines, though such bills in the state legislature are unlikely to advance this year.
On Oct. 10, Navigator withdrew its application for a certificate of authority before the Illinois Commerce Commission, needed to allow the company to use eminent domain for the pipeline route. Opponents greeted that move with cautious optimism, noting that Navigator had previously withdrawn a proposal in January only to refile it in February with an expanded pipeline route.
Under Illinois Commerce Commission policy, that expanded proposal had to be decided upon within 11 months. Pipeline opponents had worried Navigator was trying to restart the clock as the deadline drew near, since commission staff had raised objections and noted that Navigator had only 15% of the agreements with residents it would need to pursue the route without eminent domain.
On Oct. 20, Navigator released a statement saying: “The development of Navigator CO2’s pipeline project has been challenging. Given the unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes involved, particularly in South Dakota and Iowa, the Company has decided to cancel its pipeline project.”
In late September, the company had officially paused its permit-seeking process in Iowa, following a permit denial in South Dakota.
Richart said by email that while opponents are relieved, “we also know that the tax incentives from the federal government for carbon capture, transport and storage likely mean another entity will pick up Navigator’s project or find a different route through Illinois.”
Legislation unlikely this year
Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club, said the Navigator situation shows the need for a moratorium on carbon dioxide pipelines in the state, at least until the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration completes revised safety standards, expected in October 2024.
Last winter, bills were introduced in the Illinois legislature that would disallow new carbon dioxide pipeline permits until the safety standards are adopted. Another set of bills introduced last spring would ban the use of eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines and hold operators “solely liable” for any damage.
It appears none of these bills will be addressed in the legislature’s brief November veto session, which means any legislation would need to be reintroduced next year.
Darin said advocates want to “get some safeguards in place on this entire technology — not only pipelines but how these gasses are captured and ultimately stored.”
“The wisest thing to do seems to be to take a minute to figure out the risks and implications at all stages of the process,” Darin said, lamenting “the federal tax incentives that are driving projects at a speed that is faster than regulations can keep up with them.”
Darin added that “we continue to be open-minded that carbon capture and sequestration could be a solution for some decarbonized sectors” like heavy industry. Advocates favor electrification for the transportation sector; and renewables, rather than carbon capture from fossil fuels, for power generation, he said.
“A moratorium is not a ban and therefore does not really do anything to diminish the potential of carbon capture and sequestration as a carbon solution,” Darin said. “It does make sure we don’t make long-term mistakes that jeopardize people in this short-term rush to cash in on these tax subsidies.”
Navigator ‘exploring next steps’
Illinois residents said they were approached by Navigator representatives seeking easement agreements in late 2021 and 2022. Local farmers and other landowners began working together to learn more about and ultimately oppose carbon dioxide pipelines. Residents encouraged their neighbors not to sign agreements with the company, and held regular informational webinars and meetings with pipeline opponents in other states.
“While I am relieved that Navigator has thrown in the towel, this has wasted our time and money,” said Kathy Campbell, a central Illinois resident who said she and her husband spent more than $30,000 trying to defeat the proposal.
The company offered payments to Illinois counties, including ones that had passed their own local pipeline moratoria, in exchange for “good faith” support of the Navigator proposal. Nearly 500 people attended a July 17 meeting regarding one such proposal to the board of Sangamon County, home to Illinois’s capital, Springfield.
Navigator first proposed to sequester carbon dioxide in Christian County, Illinois, though Christian County passed a moratorium on such projects. Navigator’s latest application also had a spur leading to a sequestration site in Montgomery County, Illinois.
“We are currently exploring what next steps may be with the sequestration portion of the project footprint,” said Navigator vice president of government and public affairs Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, by email. “Navigator does still have multiple active Class VI injection well permit applications pending with the U.S. EPA.”
Campbell wonders whether Navigator can sell its plans for sequestration to another company, or whether another company will propose a pipeline connecting to Navigator’s proposed sequestration sites.
Like other residents, she fears a disaster if carbon dioxide were to leak as it did from a pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi, where at least 45 people were poisoned and hospitalized.
“Those accidents are going to happen — it’s Russian roulette as to when and where they will happen,” said Campbell, an audiologist and professor at Southern Illinois University.
She previously did consulting for pharmaceutical and biotech companies related to the risk of side effects.
“Some drugs have risks,” but they may be approved and used “because the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “But this has zero benefit for us.”