March 2023, Vol. 250, No. 3

Editor's Notebook

Editor’s Notebook: Getting the CO2 Out

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief 

(P&GJ) — Navigator Heartland Greenway has voluntarily withdrawn its application for a certificate of authority to build a 250-mile portion of its CO2 pipeline through a part of western Illinois, but the company said it plans to refile soon. 

The reason given by the company, and somehow hailed as a major victory by those opposing the project, was that all the easements for a related proposed sequestration site had not been obtained yet, making the paperwork for the request incomplete. 

These thing happen, of course, and are routinely rectified, but what seems strange to me (although by now, maybe it shouldn’t) is that anyone this intent on protecting the environment would take such a position regarding a CO2 sequestration project in the first place. 

Disposing of CO2 is, after all, is a good thing, I would think, from everyone’s perspective. Afterall, CO2 contributes to air pollution and plays a substantial role in the greenhouse effect. 

In the case of this first phase of the project, more than 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year would be captured, transported and permanently sequestered, according to Texas-based Navigator. A fully developed pipeline project would eventually be able to capture 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.  

The $3.2 billion pipeline would cross the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, along a 1,300-mile route, carrying carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol and fertilizer facilities that had been converted from gas into dense fluid, in route to an underground site in central Illinois. 

The conversion process involves taking as much water as possible out of the captured CO2 gas and compressing it so it changes to a liquid before it is moved through a network of pipeline infrastructure to a wellhead. At that location, it is injected a mile to a mile-and-a-half underground. 

The geology of the storage site will allow the liquified CO2 to mineralize overtime and become rock, Navigator said. Emissions reduction from the Illinois portion alone would be equivalent to taking more than 75,000 gasoline-fueled cars off the road. 

I suppose the argument could be made that the CO2 could just as easily be transported by train, truck or ship, but would adding all of that traffic – both by land and by sea – really provide a feasible, let alone safe, alternative? The answer, obviously, common sense says is it would not. 

CO2 pipelines, according to federal government data on the 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines in operation, shows a reduced incident rate that is down 56% over the last five years. When compared to other liquids pipelines, CO2 pipelines are the safest. 

In fact, the pipeline, under current PHMSA regulations – 49 CFR, Part 195, will require literally hundreds of inspection, construction and maintenance safeguards as is prescribed for all CO2 pipelines.  

As an added measure, PHMSA is currently conducting a rule-making process to improve safety and oversight of CO2 pipelines, which it hopes to complete by October 2024. PHMSA is not new to this type of oversight either, having had its jurisdiction expanded to cover CO2 pipelines in 1989.  

This is an area the U.S. federal government enforces rigorously, too. Just ask a pipeline owner/operator if you need confirmation. 

To date, Navigator said it has successfully negotiated with landowners to secure hundreds of miles of pipeline rights-of-way easements, thousands of acres of storage space, and the necessary well-sites to accommodate the initial injection capacity. 

In its motion to withdraw the permit, Navigator said a new permit would allow it to accelerate the development of additional permanent storage locations across other counties in central Illinois. 

“There continues to be a growing and diverse number of industrial emitters across the Corn Belt recognizing the value carbon capture technology provides for their businesses,” said Navigator CEO Matt Vining. “With the increasing number of shippers participating in the Heartland Greenway and landowners’ collaborative and responsive feedback, refiling allows us to streamline the application process in Illinois for all parties.” 

Navigator, which specializes in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and has constructed and operated over 1,300 miles of new infrastructure since 2012, said construction of the project could begin as early as 2024, with service beginning in 2025. 

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