Capital Clicks

Summit will present its witnesses this week for pipeline permit

By: - September 4, 2023 10:00 am

Verle Tate (left), a Wright County landowner, testified Aug. 29, 2023 at the Summit Carbon Solutions evidentiary hearing. (Screenshot from IUB livestream)

A new phase of Summit Carbon Solutions’ evidentiary hearing for its pipeline permit is poised to begin Tuesday.

The company plans to call its 15 witnesses to testify over the course of four days, according to the Iowa Utilities Board.

The hearing is a final component of the IUB’s process for weighing the company’s application for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit. Summit intends to construct more than 2,000 miles of pipe to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five state to North Dakota for underground sequestration. More than 680 miles of the system would be in Iowa.

The hearing began Aug. 22, and its first two weeks featured testimony from some of the landowners who are subject to the company’s eminent domain requests to get land easements for the project.

There were a few landowners who had anticipated testifying in the past two weeks but were unable because of schedule conflicts, said Melissa Myers, an IUB spokesperson. They can testify later this month.

Witnesses testify about evidence the board will consider from the company and others as it weighs Summit’s permit request. They are subject to cross-examination.

The landowners who have already testified object to the project on numerous grounds. They are convinced construction of the pipeline will cause irreparable damage to their farmland. They worry about having to repay money they have received by setting aside the land for federal conservation programs, which require the land to go untouched. They are concerned about the wellbeing of people and livestock should the pipeline break and release carbon dioxide, which under certain circumstances and form a dense plume of gas that can asphyxiate them. Some have future commercial or residential projects that could be impeded by the project.

Most of them decry the use of eminent domain to get the easements, which would allow Summit to construct and operate the pipeline on property it doesn’t own. Opponents argue the project doesn’t fit an eminent domain requirement that it promotes “the public convenience and necessity” in the same way of a natural gas pipeline.

There are about 950 parcels of land in Iowa for which Summit seeks the forced easements.

The project hit a roadblock last month in North Dakota, where state regulators rejected its proposed route. The company has retooled its proposal to move the pipeline farther away from Bismarck and asked the North Dakota Public Service Commission to reconsider. A decision on the request is pending.

Summit has argued that its $5.5 billion pipeline system would be a boon to the ethanol industry, ensuring its long-term viability and increasing producers’ profits. That is also important for the income of farmers because the industry is a major market for them — more than half of Iowa’s corn is used to produce ethanol.

Ethanol producers who capture and sequester their carbon are eligible for generous federal tax credits, and they also have the ability to earn more money in low-carbon fuel markets. Summit has tentative profit-sharing agreements with 13 ethanol plants in Iowa.

Summit has said the safety concerns about carbon dioxide pipelines are overblown, and that a major pipeline breach is unlikely to happen.

The evidentiary hearing in Fort Dodge could go for weeks or months. It is set to resume Tuesday at 10 a.m. and is broadcast live by the IUB.

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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.