North Dakota landowners testified for and against a carbon capture company’s use of eminent domain Friday, as Summit Carbon Solutions moves forward in constructing a massive underground system of carbon dioxide pipelines spanning 2,000 miles across several states and under hundreds of people’s homes and farms in the Midwest.
The proposed $4.5 billion carbon pipeline project would capture carbon dioxide emissions across neighboring states and deposit the emissions deep underground in North Dakota.
Landowners who opposed the company's right to eminent domain argued that a private entity should not be able to forcibly buy their land and that the pipeline will potentially endanger people living above it.
Eminent domain refers to the government’s right to forcibly buy private property — like the land under a person’s house or farm — for public use.
Landowners who supported Summit's right to exercise eminent domain said the company's timely construction of the carbon pipeline serves an important public interest — it would reduce the state’s carbon footprint and thereby allow North Dakotans to continue working in energy and agriculture — and that people living above the pipeline will be safe.
“The safety of our operations, our employees, and the communities where we operate is the foundation of Summit Carbon Solutions’ business,” Summit said on its website. “As the project is constructed, we will utilize the latest and most reliable technologies and materials.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee did not immediately vote on the bills heard Thursday and Friday about carbon pipelines and eminent domain.
Republican Sen. Jeffery Magrum, of Hazelton, said he introduced the bills because he has heard from “many landowners” that carbon pipeline developers are threatening the use of eminent domain as a way to negotiate for property rights and access.
“We need to support property rights and our land owners as we develop our natural resources,” Magrum said.
The bill heard Friday would prohibit carbon pipeline companies from exercising eminent domain, but would allow oil, gas and coal companies to continue using eminent domain.
"The proposed carbon dioxide pipeline would move a dangerous product through our community to a location where it cannot be used for any purpose, but instead must be injected underground and sequestered forever," said Gaylen Dewing, who has worked as a farmer and rancher near Bismarck for over 50 years.
Dewing added that the state's energy industry “would not benefit in any way” from this practice of storing carbon dioxide underground, so carbon pipeline companies should not have the right to exercise eminent domain.
Susan Doppler, a landowner in Burleigh County, said her family does not want "our land ripped up — toxic and useless — to give way to a hazardous pipeline. What a worthless and disgusting inheritance to leave a future generation.”
But other North Dakota landowners pushed back.
Keith Kessler, a farmer and rancher in Oliver County who owns land within the boundaries of the pipeline project, said a different pipeline has been transporting carbon for over 20 years between North Dakota and Canada. That pipeline has never had a rupture or leak, and hazardous incidents from carbon pipelines are rare, he said.
And Lori Flemmer, a resident of Mercer County, said her husband and sons work in the energy industry and on their family farm. Working in agriculture and energy is “reality in coal country," she said, and carbon capture technology is necessary for reducing carbon footprints and keeping coal plants alive.
Summit Carbon Solutions' Executive Vice President Wade Boeshans said the company must keep its ability to use eminent domain in order to build carbon pipelines in a timely fashion, deliver on the $4.5 billion pipeline project and keep North Dakota's economy afloat. According to the company's website, the project would span Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum lauded North Dakota’s efforts to store carbon dioxide in January.
“We’re on our way toward achieving carbon neutrality as a state by 2030, thanks to our extraordinary capacity to safely store over 252 billion tons of CO2, or 50 years of the nation’s CO2 output,” Burgum said. “And in the process, we can help secure the future of our state’s two largest industries: energy and agriculture.”
The Trump administration in 2018 gave North Dakota the power to regulate underground wells used for long-term storage of waste carbon dioxide. North Dakota was the first state to be given such power, the Environmental Protection Agency said in announcing the move. The state has since invested heavily in carbon capture and sequestration technology.
Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15