The CO2 pipeline proposal elicits mixed reactions in southwestern Minnesota.

A proposal to build a five-state gas pipeline to link biofuel plants with permanent carbon storage is causing mixed reactions in southwestern Minnesota, where part of the project would be running.

According to the plan presented by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, the pipeline would channel CO2 emissions from ethanol plants in North Dakota locations where the greenhouse gas would be injected into rock formations deep underground. The company hopes to begin construction on the $ 4.5 billion project next September.

Supporters of the pipeline are touting the potential of the project to fight climate change and revive the local economy. But some landowners and environmental groups say they are worried that the pipeline could rupture and pollute water and farmland.

A labyrinth of pipes at the Highwater Ethanol Plant in rural Lamberton, Minnesota.

Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Support the drum

Summit Carbon Solutions filed for permission this week with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, but supporters of the project have been working for months to generate support for the pipeline.

In late August, Highwater Ethanol held a media tour at its Lamberton facility to show how the plant could eventually connect to the pipeline. Highwater is one of five ethanol plants in Minnesota and among 32 in the Midwest already committed to the project.

CEO Brian Kletscher says Highwater turned just over 581,000 tons of corn into ethanol in 2021. In the same year, the plant also emitted around 78,000 tons of CO2.

By capturing and storing its carbon emissions from ethanol production, Kletscher says Highwater could save millions of dollars a year. Federal tax law allows a credit of up to $ 85 for every ton of carbon that a facility stores underground.

These tax savings would make ethanol production cheaper, he says, and that would help the local agricultural economy.

“We buy about 50 percent of the corn produced in Redwood County,” Kletscher said. “It will be another step for us to get more for ethanol and, in this way, we are doable for a long time into the future.”

A person speaks at a press conference

Lee Blank, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions, speaks at a press conference at the Highwater Ethanol plant on Aug. 18, 30 in rural Lamberton, Minnesota.

Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Summit Carbon Solutions hosted meetings to discuss the project and answer questions or address concerns. The company is seeking voluntary easements from the landowners to operate the pipeline through their properties. Those conversations were mostly positive, said CEO Lee Blank.

“We strongly believe this is beneficial to the farm’s economy,” he said. “And therefore, we want them to be involved, as well as the fact that we are collaborating with them as we move this project forward [to] fruition and completion “.

But the obstacles remain.

The project meets with opposition

Peg Furshong works for the CURE River based environmental organization based in Montevideo. He fears that broken pipes could expose groundwater to carbon dioxide, creating carbonic acid in local water supplies. The gas is odorless and colorless. It is also an asphyxiant for humans.

“There was no information shared with the public as to whether a school or hospital or something large had been built in a large rural community,” Furshong said. “And so the lack of transparency and the lack of agencies for rural communities is really important. That point of democracy is missing ”.

About 35 miles north of Lamberton in the Lower Sioux Indian Community, the tribal council is also concerned about the potential risks of the project. Although the pipeline will not cross the reservation, it will cross the Minnesota River upstream from the community.

One person poses for a portrait

Kevin O’Keefe, treasurer of the Lower Sioux Indian Community, says a proposed CO2 pipeline that would cross the Minnesota River upstream from the community affects tribal members.

Hanna Yang | MPR News

Kevin O’Keefe, treasurer for Lower Sioux, is concerned about the potential risks to wildlife and water quality if the pipeline leaks or ruptures. He is also concerned that rescuers are trained or equipped to handle a loss or breakdown, leaving rural communities vulnerable if proper safety precautions are not in place.

“We want to encourage green energy sources. We want to encourage less burning of fossil fuels, “O’Keefe said.” I think this is a bad solution for that. “

Summit Carbon contacted Anita Vogel’s parents in Lamberton to sign an easement. Vogel said some neighbors and landowners were offered signing bonuses. She is not against those considering signing up for the project because they need money to support their families and businesses, but she urges others to seek more information.

Anita Vogel poses for a portrait

Anita Vogel is located where a possible pipeline would go if her family signed an easement agreement with Summit Carbon Solutions.

Jackson Forderer for MPR News

“My message to fellow landowners is that there is no rush. There is absolutely no rush, “she said.” They have to do what’s best for them, as long as they don’t take advantage of it. “

Hamline University professor David Schultz says the project could be both essential and threatening to those living in rural Minnesota and even the Twin Cities. Schultz, who teaches political science and environmental studies, said that while pipelines are beneficial from an economic and energy development perspective, they also pose risks to the environment if something goes wrong.

“These pipelines have an ambiguous role in our society regarding lifestyle, politics, energy and a lot of different things that most of us don’t think about on a daily basis,” added Schultz.

Larry Liepold poses for a portrait

Larry Liepold is where a possible pipeline would go if his family signed an easement agreement with Summit Carbon Solutions. Liepold’s family leases part of the farmland in Heron Lake, Minnesota, with the Heron Lake BioEnergy ethanol plant in the background.

Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Larry Liepold’s farms land at Heron Lake, more than 30 miles south of Lamberton. Summit Carbon Solutions contacted him for an easement several months ago, but Liepold said he turned down the offer.

“Nothing should go by without some stamina to try it out and see if it’s worthy,” Liepold said. “Mainly because we have taken a position that we want to be fairly compensated if we decide it’s a good thing for our area.”

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