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County temporarily bans new pipelines in response to carbon-capture proposal

The proposed Midwest Carbon Express route through South Dakota.
Public record
The proposed Midwest Carbon Express route through South Dakota.

McPherson County has created a moratorium on new pipeline construction in response to a proposed carbon-capture pipeline that would pass through its jurisdiction.

"Not a lot of meetings have taken place and a lot of people frankly don't even know that this pipeline is being proposed through their counties, much less some of them don't even know that it's coming through either their land or their neighborhoods," said Commissioner Anthony Kunz.

The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline is proposed by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions.

Kunz said the commission learned about the project late last year when a company representative introduced the project over a telephone call at an open meeting.

Both the Planning and Zoning Board and County Commission unanimously voted in January for a moratorium that will prevent any new pipelines carrying hazardous materials until the county's zoning ordinance can be updated.

Representatives with Summit Carbon Solutions then gave a presentation about the project at the commission's Feb. 1 meeting.

Kunz said residents and commissioners have concerns about safety, property rights and a lack of information about the project.

He said some landowners don't want Summit Carbon Solutions to build pipe through their property, and are afraid the company will use eminent domain to obtain an easement.

Kunz said the company has been wishy-washy on whether it will use the court-ordered process.

"If you read between the lines I think that's probably an option for them. They say they don't want to, but they also don't tell you that they won't," he said.

Kunz said the moratorium will allow the county government to learn more information and update zoning rules. Zoning options include requiring pipelines to be built a certain distance from a house and a certain depth underground.

Summit Carbon Solutions wrote in an email that it continues to engage in dialogue and answer questions from landowners and counties. It says the project will benefit the ethanol industry, and by extension, the entire agriculture industry.

"Farmers and landowners understand that ethanol production consumes nearly 50% of our corn crop every year, which is a big reason why we’ve had early success signing hundreds of pipeline easements along our route with farmers who have a vested interest in our success," the company said.

The project

Summit Carbon Solutions recently opened an application with the Public Utilities Commission after giving presentations to government bodies and hosting public meetings with residents.

The company and land agents have also begun visiting landowners asking for permission to survey their property and seeking voluntary easements for permission to build the pipeline through their land.

The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would capture carbon dioxide — a polluting gas that contributes to global warming — from 31 ethanol plants inthe Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. The 2,000 miles of pipeline would bring the C02 to an underground storage center near Bismarck to prevent the gas from being released into the atmosphere.

The South Dakota portion is estimated to cost $785 million and would involve seven ethanol plants and 469 miles of pipeline.

The pipeline's route through South Dakota would cross from Iowa into Lincoln County and travel northwest until it exits McPherson County into North Dakota.

The pipeline would also pass through Beadle, Brown, Clark, Codington, Edmunds, Hamlin, Hand, Hyde, Kingsbury, Lake, McCook, Minnehaha, Miner, Spink, Sully and Turner counties. Summit Carbon Solutions says it would not pass through tribal land.

The main pipe would have branches that connect to Dakota Ethanol in Wentworth, Redfield Energy in Redfield, Ringneck Energy & Feed in Onida, and Glacial Lakes Energy in Aberdeen, Huron, Mina and Watertown.

Pros and cons

Summit Carbon Solutions says the Midwest Carbon Express would be the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world, storing 12 million tons of C02 each year. It says that's equivalent to taking 2.6 million vehicles off the road every year.

The company says C02 pipelines are safer than other kinds of pipelines. It says the project would be a win for the corn and ethanol industries, which could earn more money by selling fuel to markets with low-carbon standards. Those markets include California, Washington, and Oregon.

Summit Carbon Solutions says it will compensate private landowners for easements on their land and any damage to their crops.

Critics of carbon capture include some environmentalists, landowners and tribal nations and members.

Dakota Rural Action and the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club say carbon capture does not address the root cause of climate change, and that the pipelines have safety and environmental risks.

Dakota Rural Action — which focuses on environmental, agriculture and property-right protections — is also concerned about the eminent domain process, which it says favors profits for out-of-state companies over South Dakota landowners.

The PUC is hosting the following public meetings where residents can learn more about the project and provide input:

  • Onida: 5:30 p.m. on March 22 at the Sully Buttes High School gym.
  • Sioux Falls: 5:30 p.m. on March 23 in the Washington Room at the Ramkota Conference Center.
  • De Smet: Noon on March 24 at the DeSmet Event Center.
  • Redfield: 5:30 p.m. on March 24 at the Redfield School Auditorium.
  • Aberdeen: Noon on March 25 in the Northern Room at the Ramkota Hotel.
Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.