Wolf proceeds with voluntary pipeline approach despite neighbors’ growing blockade

By: - April 7, 2023 5:26 pm

Wolf Carbon Solutions filed for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit in Iowa on Feb. 23, 2023. (Iowa Utilities Board filing)

There is plenty of time to negotiate with landowners and enough wiggle room in Wolf Carbon Solutions’ proposed carbon dioxide pipeline route to avoid using eminent domain for the project, said Nick Noppinger, the company’s senior vice president of corporate development.

Wolf is an anomaly among the three companies that want to build the pipelines in Iowa to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants for underground sequestration and other commercial purposes. The other companies — Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures — have indicated in their filings with state regulators that they will seek eminent domain to gain land easements. Wolf says it will gain those easements voluntarily, and its pipeline is much shorter than the other proposals.

Its application for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit in Iowa does not contain a request for eminent domain, although the company could amend its request to include it.

“The intention as of now — and based on our discussions with landowners — is that we will not be using eminent domain,” Noppinger told Iowa Capital Dispatch in a recent interview.

The company’s project would span about 280 miles from Cedar Rapids to central Illinois, where the captured greenhouse gas would be permanently sequestered in the Mt. Simon Sandstone geological formation. About 90 of those miles are in Iowa.

Relatively little is known about Iowa’s capacity to sequester carbon underground, but the Illinois formation has significant capacity and is a proven sequestration site, where that activity has been ongoing for more than 10 years.

“The rationale and importance of the Mt. Simon hub is really to help decarbonize the ethanol industry, as well as other industries spanning Iowa and Illinois, so that we can better prepare them for the future decarbonization,” Noppinger said.

The project currently includes two Iowa ethanol plants, in Cedar Rapids and Clinton. Noppinger said the pipeline would have sufficient capacity to connect to other sites, including those that are not ethanol plants.

The Wolf route was selected, he said, because it lies within four major urban areas where there are industries with significant greenhouse gas emissions.

There is, however, a significant number of landowners who have publicly said they will not sign voluntary easements for the pipeline. An early March filing with the Iowa Utilities Board — submitted by affected landowner Jessica Wiskus — listed about 200 of those landowners in opposition.

In a new filing by Wiskus this week, that number has grown to more than 250.

“Everyone on the list has already decided where they stand in terms of this issue,” Wiskus said, “and we’re looking for a way just to be able to say, ‘No means no … don’t come back. We’re not interested.’”

Steve Pisarik’s farmland near Ely is at the center of Wolf’s pipeline corridor in Linn County. That corridor of potential construction is two miles wide, Noppinger said, to allow the company to avoid landowners who oppose the project. But Pisarik said he and his neighbors — many of who have farmland that’s been owned by their families for several generations — are in solidarity against the project.

A tentative map compiled by Wiskus of that area shows a corridor of opposition that is nearly three miles wide in places — larger than Wolf’s current corridor.

“I grew up in a neighborhood of multigenerational farmers who all feel the same way,” Pisarik said. “It would be betraying our families. … I’ll go to jail before I let them put it on my ground.”

Pisarik said he has stopped answering his home telephone to avoid any contact with Wolf representatives.

Wiskus said she, too, is avoiding the company and that the pipeline proposal led to calls and emails among concerned neighbors that spawned meetings and, ultimately, the list of opposition. She doesn’t think it’s possible for the pipeline to come through the area without eminent domain.

“Nobody wants their other neighbors to be under the same kind of stress that they’re under at this moment,” Wiskus said. “And that’s why all of us are kind of holding together. It’s the only power we have.”

The pipelines would be a boon to the ethanol industry because they would allow ethanol producers to qualify for considerable federal tax credits. Those who oppose the projects are concerned about damage to land, the bigger issue of landowners’ rights and the safety risks associated with potential leaks.

A federal regulator recently noted that those risks are relatively small and can be reduced further by vigilant monitoring of the pipeline routes for shifting soil that causes pipeline breaks.

Wolf’s project is the third proposed carbon dioxide pipeline in Iowa, and Noppinger said some of the opposition to its project is rooted in the opposition to the others, which span considerably longer distances of about 680 and 810 miles in Iowa.

“There’s certainly some crossover of negativity to our project, which is really unfair,” Noppinger said. “But we’re doing all the right things to ensure that we can get this done without eminent domain.”

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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.