Navigator plans to seek pipeline permit in May

By: - January 6, 2022 7:43 pm

Landowners got a closer look at the proposed Navigator pipeline route through Story County at a Thursday meeting in Ames. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Texas company that wants to build a pipeline to transport liquid carbon dioxide across the state has nearly concluded a series of informational, public meetings and plans to formally petition in May for permission to build it.

“This is your land, and treating it with the utmost respect is the top priority for us,” Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs for Navigator CO2 Ventures, said during one of those meetings Thursday in Ames.

The estimated $3 billion project would lay about 900 miles of steel pipe — ranging in diameter from 6 to 24 inches — in the soil of about a third of the state’s counties. Its main artery would bisect the state from northwest to southeast, and branches would stretch from it to ethanol and fertilizer plants.

The idea is to capture carbon dioxide waste from those plants and pump it deep into the ground in Illinois. In doing so, those plants could also capture about $750 million annually in federal tax credits or perhaps significantly more if federal lawmakers increase the credit rate.

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs for Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures, led the informational meeting Thursday in Ames. She lives in Altoona. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The carbon sequestration credit was created in 2008 and significantly expanded in 2018. Its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is considered a key factor in human-caused climate change.

Navigator is not the recipient of those tax credits; it would be paid an unspecified amount of money by about 20 ethanol and fertilizer plants based on the terms of 10-year contracts.

Navigator plans to petition the three-member Iowa Utilities Board in May for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit, which might enable it to force some landowners to allow the pipeline’s construction on their property if voluntary easements aren’t obtained. Further, the network of pipes will require a handful of booster stations that would occupy 10 acres apiece.

In order for the board to approve the permit, it needs to determine that the pipeline serves a “public convenience and necessity” under Iowa law.

More than 100 people attended the Ames meeting. Those who spoke were concerned about the use of eminent domain to obtain easements for the pipeline, disturbing the land to construct and bury it, and the potential public safety hazards that might arise from leaks.

“In spite of all the concerns raised by the pipelines, the IUB has a very simple standard that it must abide by when deciding whether or not to grant the permit,” Kevin and Evalee Strenge, who own farms in Emmet County, wrote to the board this week. “The permit must serve the public good. This project simply does not meet that standard.”

Navigator plans to install most of the pipe with trenches that would place it about 5 feet deep. To limit damage to the land, workers would remove topsoil and set it aside to be the last sediment put back after the pipe is laid.

However, Burns-Thompson acknowledged that crop yield losses for farmland were nearly inevitable. Navigator plans to pay for part or all of those estimated losses to affected farmers for three years.

“You don’t know anything about the earth,” one woman at the Ames meeting retorted.

As for safety concerns, the “worst case scenario” would be something akin to a Mississippi pipeline rupture that happened last year, said Stephen Lee, Navigator’s senior vice president of engineering. Dozens were sickened by the February rupture, which Lee said was likely caused by shifting sediment.

Dozens of people posed questions to Navigator CO2 Ventures officials during a pipeline informational meeting in Ames on Thursday. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Such leaks are peculiar in that, unlike natural gas, carbon dioxide is denser than air and remains close to the ground — and people — as it escapes and changes to a gas. Lee said the liquid flowing through the Navigator pipeline would be about 98% carbon dioxide, with smaller amounts of nitrogen and hydrogen sulfide, which is poisonous and flammable.

Navigator has not operated a carbon pipeline before, but Lee said the company has not had critical failures of its previous other pipelines in Texas and Oklahoma.

“There are risks associated with any project — this one included,” Burns-Thompson said. “We do believe that we are proactively mitigating those risks.”

Navigator plans to solidify its final proposed route for its pipeline — dubbed the Heartland Greenway System — the rest of this year and apply for a federal permit. If successful, it expects to receive state and federal permits in the second half of 2023 and start construction in 2024.

Lee said the starts of construction would happen in 20 different places concurrently in 2024.

There are a handful of informational meetings scheduled for this month, most of which were rescheduled because of the December derecho. A list of them is on the IUB website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct information in a photo caption about Elizabeth Burns-Thompson. She lives in Altoona.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.