Pipeline Would Store Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Ethanol

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A pipeline aiming to pick up carbon dioxide produced by ethanol plants across the Midwest is slated to inject the gas underground in Oliver and Mercer counties, and discussion surrounding the project is heating up.

The Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would cross under the Missouri River north of Bismarck, transporting as much as 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Pipeline developer Summit Carbon Solutions says that would be equal to removing the annual carbon emissions of 2.6 million cars.

Summit announced the pipeline this past spring, and the company has met with farmers in recent weeks to explain the project, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

The line would end west of Center and south of Beulah, sending the carbon dioxide down 10 to 15 injection wells for storage in rock formations, said Wade Boeshans, executive vice president of the pipeline developer, which is part of Iowa-based Summit Agricultural Group. Boeshans previously worked as president of BNI Energy, which operates BNI Coal’s Center Mine next to the Milton R. Young Station, a coal-fired power plant where another large carbon capture project is under development.

The Summit project involves capturing the emissions of 31 ethanol plants across Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, including at Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton. Ethanol producers seek to lower the carbon intensity of their operations to make their fuel more attractive to markets along the West Coast that have enacted policies promoting low-carbon fuels as a means to address climate change.

“We anticipate the market for low-carbon fuels will grow,” Boeshans said. “One of the restraining factors to growth right now is the availability of low-carbon fuels. This project brings a significant volume of low-carbon fuel to market.”

The pipeline system would extend 2,000 miles and cost $4.5 billion, putting it on par with the Dakota Access oil pipeline in terms of its size. Dakota Access runs 1,200 miles and was built at a cost of $3.7 billion.

The Midwest Carbon Express would include a number of small branches that connect to the main pipeline to gather carbon dioxide from ethanol plants. The greenhouse gas is generated during the fermentation process at ethanol plants and typically released into the atmosphere. Ethanol is generally made from corn.

The pipeline project has drawn praise from North Dakota officials, but some people in other states have already expressed opposition, including farmers and environmentalists in Iowa. News reports there indicate critics have economic and safety concerns.

“This is just the latest case of someone insisting on putting a pipeline or an easement on our property,” farmer Beth Richards told Iowa Public Radio earlier this month. “I’ve lost track of how many times our family has had to deal with this.”

Some farmers say they worry the company might resort to eminent domain to build the project, a process in which unwilling landowners would be forced to let the pipeline cross their property, according to the Globe Gazette of Mason City, Iowa.

Boeshans said he’s optimistic Summit can negotiate agreeable terms with all landowners along the route. He acknowledged eminent domain was a possibility in some spots, “but that’s not where we start,” he said.

“What I hear consistently from landowners is strong support for the project,” he said. “They understand the value of it. On most of this land, there’s corn growing on the surface of it, especially if you go east of Bismarck.”

Boeshans said the pipeline would be made of carbon steel, with all welded joints examined via X-ray, exceeding federal pipeline safety standards. The line would undergo regular inspections and have a leak detection system in place, as well as shutoff valves, he said.

The project is expected to create as many as 17,000 construction jobs and support up to 500 permanent jobs, according to Summit.

The company is aiming to start construction in the second quarter of 2023 and begin operations in the second quarter of 2024, Boeshans said.

The pipeline will require permits in several states, including one from the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Summit has not filed its application yet with the PSC, but it intends to early next year, Boeshans said. The North Dakota Industrial Commission would be involved in permitting the injection site.

A map provided by Summit of the pipeline’s North Dakota route shows it would enter the state in McIntosh County to the southeast of Bismarck and make its way northwest to the injection site. A branch crossing through southeastern North Dakota would pick up carbon dioxide from Tharaldson Ethanol and connect near the state line on the South Dakota side.

The Midwest Carbon Express project would seek to make use of a federal tax credit for carbon dioxide storage, as are a number of other carbon capture projects planned for North Dakota.

Boeshans said the project is in line with Gov. Doug Burgum’s goal to make the state carbon neutral by 2030. The governor envisions achieving the goal by not only capturing the emissions of North Dakota’s fossil fuel industry, but also by importing carbon dioxide from other states to send deep underground where the geology allows for it. Western North Dakota’s rock formations are ideal, experts say. Research is ongoing to determine the feasibility of projects in the eastern half.

The idea is to store the gas in rock formations with the right characteristics, sealed above by layers of impermeable rock so that the gas never escapes upward into drinking water or the atmosphere. The Summit project, like others proposed for North Dakota, would include monitoring wells to gauge the location of the plume of carbon dioxide expected to form underground.

“At the end of the day I think what’s important to understand about this project is that it’s strategic to North Dakota’s two largest industries: energy and ag,” Boeshans said. “This sustains the corn market and ethanol industry ... while (helping to) achieve that goal of net-zero carbon emissions here in the state.”

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, meanwhile, is considering ways it could help facilitate more carbon dioxide pipelines. The division wants to use artificial intelligence and other technology to model ideal corridors and routes for future lines.