CO2 pipeline proposal draws mixed reactions in SW Minn.

A proposal to build a pipeline across five states to connect biofuel plants to permanent carbon storage is drawing mixed reactions in southwest Minnesota, where part of the project would be running.

According to Iowa’s Summit Carbon Solutions plan, the pipeline would direct CO2 emissions from ethanol plants to locations in North Dakota where the greenhouse gas would be injected into rock formations deep underground. The company hopes to start construction on the $4.5 billion project next September.

The pipeline’s supporters tout the project’s potential to combat climate change and boost the local economy. But some landowners and environmental groups fear the pipeline could rupture, polluting water and farmland.

A maze of pipes at the Highwater Ethanol Plant

A maze of pipes at the Highwater Ethanol Plant in rural Lamberton, Minn.

Jackson Claimer for MPR News

drum support

Summit Carbon Solutions filed for permits with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission this week, but supporters of the project have been working for months to generate support for the pipeline.

In late August, Highwater Ethanol hosted a media tour at its Lamberton facility to show how the facility might eventually be connected to the pipeline. Highwater is one of five ethanol plants in Minnesota and 32 in the Midwest already committed to the project.

CEO Brian Kletscher says Highwater processed just over 581,000 tons of corn into ethanol in 2021. In the same year, the plant also emitted around 78,000 tons of CO2.

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By capturing and storing the carbon emissions from ethanol production, Highwater could save millions of dollars a year, Kletscher says. Federal tax law allows a credit of up to $85 for each ton of carbon a facility stores underground.

Those tax savings would make ethanol cheaper to produce, he says, and that would help local agriculture.

“We buy about 50 percent of the corn produced in Redwood County,” Kletscher said. “For us, getting more for ethanol will be another step, and that’s how we’re future-proof for a very long time.”

A person speaks at a press conference

Lee Blank, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions, speaks at a news conference at the Highwater Ethanol facility August 30 in rural Lamberton, Minn.

Jackson Claimer for MPR News

Summit Carbon Solutions held meetings to discuss the project and answer questions or address concerns. The Company is seeking voluntary easements from landowners to route the pipeline through their properties. Those discussions were mostly positive, said CEO Lee Blank.

“We strongly believe this is beneficial for the farm gate economy,” he said. “So we want them to be involved and we want us to work with them to deliver this project [to] until completion.”

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But hurdles remain.

Project encounters resistance

Peg Furshong works for grassroots environmental organization CURE River, based in Montevideo. She is concerned that pipeline ruptures could expose groundwater to carbon dioxide, causing carbonic acid in the local water supply. The gas is odorless and colorless. It is also a suffocating agent for humans.

“No information was released to the public like it would be if a school or a hospital or anything big was built in a large rural community,” Furshong said. “And so this lack of transparency and agency is really important for rural communities. That point of democracy is missing.”

About 35 miles north of Lamberton in the Lower Sioux Indian Community, the tribal council is also concerned about the project’s potential risks. Although the pipeline will not pass through the reservation, it will cross the Minnesota River upstream from the community.

A person poses for a portrait

Kevin O’Keefe, treasurer of the Lower Sioux Indian community, says a proposed CO2 pipeline that would cross the Minnesota River upstream of the community will affect tribal members.

Hannah Yang | MPR News

Lower Sioux Treasurer Kevin O’Keefe worries about potential risks to wildlife and water quality if the pipeline leaks or bursts. He is also concerned about whether responders are trained or equipped to deal with a leak or breach, putting rural communities at risk if proper safety precautions are not taken.

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“We want to promote green energy sources. We want to encourage less burning of fossil fuels,” O’Keefe said. “I think that’s a bad solution for that.”

Summit Carbon approached Anita Vogel’s parents in Lamberton to sign an easement. Vogel said signing bonuses were offered to some neighbors and landowners. She’s not against those considering signing up for the project because they need the money to support their families and businesses, but she urges others to seek more information.

Anita Vogel poses for a portrait

Anita Vogel stands where a possible pipeline would go if her family signs an easement agreement with Summit Carbon Solutions.

Jackson Claimer for MPR News

“My message to landowners is there is no rush. There’s absolutely no rush,” she said. “They have to do what is best for them as long as they are not being taken advantage of.”

David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University, says the project could be both important and threatening to people in rural Minnesota and even the Twin Cities. Schultz, who teaches political science and environmental science, said while pipelines are beneficial from an economic and energy development perspective, they also pose environmental risks if things go wrong.

“These pipelines play an ambiguous role in our society in terms of lifestyle, politics, energy and a whole bunch of different things that most of us don’t really think about on a daily basis,” Schultz added.

Larry Liepold poses for a portrait

Larry Liepold stands where a potential pipeline would go if his family signs an easement agreement with Summit Carbon Solutions. Liepold’s family leases a portion of farmland in Heron Lake, Minnesota, with the Heron Lake BioEnergy ethanol plant in the background.

Jackson Claimer for MPR News

Larry Liepold farms land in Heron Lake, more than 30 miles south of Lamberton. Summit Carbon Solutions approached him about an easement a few months ago, but Liepold said he turned down the offer.

“Nothing should go through without a bit of resistance to try and see if it’s worthy,” Liepold said. “Mainly because we have taken a position that we want to compensate fairly, we should decide it’s a good thing for our division.”

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