'This isn't Texas or Oklahoma ... this is Iowa': Farmers push back against proposed pipeline

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

For two and a half hours Thursday, officials with Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures fielded questions and heard comments from Story County residents on the multi-billion dollar pipeline they plan to bury across the county.

Nearly 100 had gathered at the Gateway Hotel & Conference Center in Ames, although the room was half empty by the time the last question was asked.

At the same location in September, another company, Summit Carbon Solutions, held an informational meeting for their own carbon-capture pipeline.

The Story County meeting was one of 36 the company plans to host across the state. The Iowa Utilities Board and Navigator hosted another hour of questions at the Boone DMACC campus a few hours later.

At both Navigator and Summit meetings, attendees predominantly expressed opposition to the plans and wariness over the proposals' safety, potential effects on the environment and long-term effect on farmland.

"This isn't Texas or Oklahoma. This is Iowa and things are different here," Hardin County farmer Greg Gilbert told company officials in Story County Thursday.

For subscribers: Carbon pipelines could extend ethanol’s viability, but some Iowa farmers say they’re not worth the tradeoffs

What are the projects?

If approved, the companies' pipelines would run through several states, including Iowa, gathering liquified emissions from more than 40 ethanol plants along the way.

Navigator's pipeline would cut across Iowa from the southeast corner to the northeast. In Story County, the pipeline would cross borders with Boone, Hardin and Polk counties, cutting between Ames and Nevada.

Navigator identified a half-mile corridor in which the route could be adjusted to accommodate landowners and any other issues. If the route needed to be adjusted beyond that corridor, Navigator would need to restart the process of notifying landowners.

The company touts the potential to capture 15 million metric tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to the emissions of 3.2 million vehicles. The capture would not only bring environmental benefits, but also make tax incentives available to ethanol plants, including the 460 Tax Credit, and aiding in their marketability in states with net-zero emissions policies.

More: 'My family's been through this 4 times': Story County residents push back against carbon sequestration pipeline

Navigator's vice president of government and public affairs, Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, an Iowa State grad who was raised on a family farm in Linn County and pursued a career in agriculture, started the presentation by emphasizing her roots in Iowa.

"When I speak to you, know the value of what this means for the agricultural community — I'm seeing that, really, firsthand," Burns-Thompson said.

She likened Navigator's Heartland Greenway pipeline to a bus system where the riders are the tons of CO2 emissions it would transfer. Plants would pay a flat rate for the company's transportation services and then own the economic benefits.

"All those incentives and benefits remain here at home," Burns-Thompson said.

More: 'It's gonna screw up everything': Boone County farmers decry proposed carbon capture pipeline

One farmer said the analogy makes landowners the interstate, arguing they should be fairly compensated for that service.

Like Summit, Navigator would offer impacted landowners 100% of potential crop yield loss upfront in the first year, 80% in the second and 60% in the third. But Navigator would be accountable beyond the first three years, for as long as the project is operational.

Another landowner asked why they wouldn't receive a yearly payment for Navigator using their land, to which Navigator COO David Giles said annual payments could be negotiated.

But compensation did not appear to appease the opposition to the project.

Safety, land value among reasons for opposition

The company faced pushback, particularly from those in the agricultural community who are still scarred by memories of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they said left long-term damage to the area's farmland.

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon said he knows one farmer who was impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline who was told by an agronomist his soil won't recover from the project work for nine years and another who's been told his soil won't recover for the rest of his lifetime.

Burns-Thompson told the Tribune Wednesday that Navigator is learning lessons from mistakes made by past pipeline developers. 

Rita Douglass, of the Good Family Partnership, asked at the Boone County meeting if she should sell her farmland now. Burns-Thompson said studies show pipelines have no impact on land value.

Others worried about safety and environmental concerns. One attendee pointed out that Navigator has never operated a CO2 pipeline and asked how are Iowans supposed to trust them to run this one adequately.

A leak by a Mississippi pipeline that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people and even caused some to foam at the mouth was brought up again. The rupture occurred during record rainfall and a resulting mudslide.

Navigator Vice President of Engineering Steven Lee said the Mississippi pipeline contained naturally occurring carbon dioxide, which contained hydrogen sulfide. The combination became problematic for that community.

Lee said Navigator will transport the purest form of CO2 and would be required to maintain 98% CO2.

Fallon commended Navigator for committing to never using CO2 for enhanced oil extraction. Summit refused to make the same commitment at a Story County meeting in September.

Some took issue with the anonymity of landowners in the pipeline's path.

Story County Supervisor Linda Murken said even the county hasn't received the names of landowners in order to follow up on the work of the county-appointed inspector for the project.

A Story County farmer who asked not to be named said it doesn't seem fair to keep landowners' names anonymous, giving landowners little ability to pool resources during negotiations.

Summit is fighting to reverse an order by the Iowa Utilities Board to release the names of landowners and business entities impacted.

Get involved:

Before construction can begin, the project still needs to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board. Information on filing comments to be considered by the board can be found at iub.iowa.gov/efs.

For those unable to attend Navigator's in-person meetings, a virtual meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. Find more information on Navigator's public meetings at bit.ly/3HJLplL.

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.