Navigator CO2 cancels its multistate pipeline project

By: - October 20, 2023 10:41 am

The route of Navigator CO2’s proposed Heartland Greenway pipeline. (Courtesy of Navigator CO2)

One of three carbon dioxide pipeline companies that have sought to build in Iowa announced on Friday that it’s canceling its proposal amid the “unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes” of Iowa and South Dakota.

Navigator CO2 had proposed to build a more than 1,300-mile pipeline system to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants and other facilities in five states to Illinois for underground sequestration or other commercial purposes. The bulk of that system was planned for Iowa.

In September, the company suffered a setback in South Dakota when the state’s Public Utilities Commission denied it a permit, partly because its route did not conform with county ordinances that restrict the placement of such pipelines.

Navigator then asked state utility regulators in Iowa to suspend its permit process while it awaited a decision from Illinois regulators. Less than two weeks ago, it asked to pull its permit application in Illinois.

“As good stewards of capital and responsible managers of people, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the Heartland Greenway project,” Navigator’s chief executive, Matt Vining, said in a project update posted to the company’s website on Friday. “We are disappointed that we will not be able to provide services to our customers and thank them for their continued support.”

Pipeline regulations vary from state to state and by type of pipeline, which was challenging to maneuver, said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, a spokesperson for the company.

“There’s also been significant discussion at the legislative level in each state about possible changes to their state-level processes in light of these proposed projects, creating even more uncertainty about what the future may hold,” she said.

Navigator hadn’t filed a motion to withdraw its permit request in Iowa as of Friday, according to Iowa Utilities Board documents. Burns-Thompson said Navigator signed option agreements for easements with landowners that will expire after a few years.

“This is a historic victory for the people of Iowa,” said Jess Mazour, of the Sierra Club of Iowa, which has resisted the pipeline proposals. “For two years we’ve worked relentlessly to protect our homes, families and communities.”

The pipeline projects are meant to capture lucrative federal tax credits for sequestering carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a primary driver of climate change. Ethanol plants would benefit from the tax credits and from producing low-carbon fuels that can be sold in stricter markets.

Pipeline opponents have argued that the projects pose safety risks to residents if they rupture, would damage farmland, and do not serve a public purpose that deserves the use of eminent domain to construct them.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, which advocates for ethanol production and has supported the pipelines, bemoaned Navigator’s decision and predicted that corn prices will drop if ethanol plants are unable to capture their carbon.

“Over the last year, we have been disappointed with the amount of disinformation that has been spread among the public and the regulators across multiple states,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the association. “That does not happen by accident. Rather, it is being pushed by groups who oppose modern agriculture and whose stated mission is to destroy farming as we know it.”

Landowners in the path of Navigator’s project who have refused to sign land easements were elated by its cancellation.

“It’s wonderful,” said Amy Solsma, an O’Brien County landowner who operates a pumpkin farm. “David slayed Goliath.”

The two remaining proposals are by Summit Carbon Solutions and Wolf Carbon Solutions.

Summit is nearing the end of its permit process in Iowa but has had setbacks in the Dakotas. It recently acknowledged that its project — if approved by state regulators — would not likely be in operation until 2026, more than a year after its initial estimate. Summit seeks eminent domain for land easements for about a quarter of its more than 680-mile route in Iowa.

In response to Navigator’s announcement, Summit said it “welcomes and is well-positioned to add additional plants and communities to our project footprint.” Navigator had planned to connect to more than a dozen facilities in Iowa.

Wolf Carbon Solutions has said it will not use eminent domain for its comparatively short route in Iowa. About 90 miles of pipe would connect to two ethanol plants in eastern Iowa, and their carbon dioxide would be piped to Illinois.

A Wolf spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question about the status of that project.

“We are going to stop the Summit and Wolf Carbon pipelines next,” Mazour said. “They will meet resistance at every level in every corner of every state.”

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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.