Talks of the Navigator carbon capture pipeline are extending beyond the original footprint and into the Heart of Illinois
A company's plans to store liquefied carbon dioxide in underground storage sites may involve a larger geographical swath of Central Illinois than previously thought.
Navigator CO2's Heartland Greenway carbon capture pipeline would transport carbon dioxide from ethanol and fertilizer plants in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois to sequestration sites in Christian and Montgomery counties.
Those plans have led to a lot of outcry from the people whose lands the pipeline would run near or under. They say the pipeline could have a negative impact on agriculture land use, and they're also concerned about the dangers of a CO2 pipeline rupture.
But the company is having conversations about sequestration with landowners in Tazewell, McLean, and Logan counties, among other Central Illinois communities, a company spokesperson confirms. It is unclear what specific routes the pipeline could potentially take through these areas.
What is carbon capture and storage?
In a nutshell, sequestration is the long-term shortage of carbon dioxide in underground rock layers as a way to cut down carbon emissions.
Carbon dioxide captured from major carbon emission sources is compressed and transported through high-pressure pipelines to a sequestration site. Injection wells then submerge the liquified CO2 into the rock deep underground. The liquified carbon dioxide fills the porous rock layers, trapping it.
Illinois is particularly well-suited to geologic CO2 sequestration because the Mt. Simon Sandstone targeted for carbon storage is more than a mile underground, well away from aquifers and fossil fuels, according to a study by the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute.
The study also said the Eau Claire Shale that lies atop the Mt. Simon Sandstone is impermeable, preventing upward CO2 movement.
What's being proposed with Heartland Greenway pipeline to date
The company pulled its initial application with the Illinois Commerce Commission, but refiled a revised application last month.
The steel pipeline would cross 13 Illinois counties in the current proposal. It would enter the state near Hamilton in Hancock County and stretch 151 miles southeast to a permanent carbon sequestration site in Christian County.
Another lateral trunkline would start in Galva and run down to a receiver site in Adams County, where the trunkline joins up with the main pipeline.
A new offshoot pipeline in the new application would start south of Springfield and run 42 miles south to a "termination and delivery point in Montgomery County for sequestration areas being developed" by the company.
Why are conversations happening outside the proposed routes?
Simply put, because such a wide swath of central Illinois has the ideal underground geology for sequestration.
That's according to Elizabeth Burns-Thompson. She is the vice president of public affairs for the Navigator CO2 project.
"We continue to have really successful conversations, both in the areas that we initially identified and built out and began the permits on sequestration wells, but also expanded areas," she said.
Burns-Thompson acknowledged that not every landowner may sign an easement allowing the pipeline to run through their property. She said building relationships is key, and the company considers exercising eminent domain a last resort.
"It doesn't save us time. It doesn't save us money. And it doesn't make us any friends," she said.
She said the company already has another phase planned as additional ethanol plants sign contracts to participate in an expanded buildout of the Heartland Greenway pipeline that would include sequestration sites at multiple sites throughout Central Illinois.
The pipeline isn't just carbon capture and storage, however. Burns-Thompson calls it a "dynamic" project that will have numerous on-ramps and off-ramps, allowing it to also supply carbon for products like food, beverages, and dry ice.
What are the concerns?
Pam Richart, the lead organizer for the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines, said there's a number of reasons why the Navigator Greenway pipeline is generating backlash.
"Landowners don't want it. And you know that if you're along the pipeline route, that's a safety concern and a risk that people are not willing to take," she said, alluding to the February 2020 pipeline rupture in rural Mississippi that led to evacuations and hospitalizations.
There's also property concerns, she said.
"If you're a farmer, there are land impacts that you don't want to have. And it goes along with eminent domain that people in this part of the state do not want to see," she said.
Navigator CO2 pulled its first application after they failed to secure enough landowners to support it. Filing a new permit application allows the company to begin engaging with landowners again.
Richart said carbon capture and storage in general is a distraction from green solutions that would do more to help the environment.
"What it's doing is diverting all of our resources, from things we know that work, and I'm talking about both the renewables and energy efficiency, conservation, and land use changes, which would help us with biological sequestration," she said.
Currently, the only active carbon capture and storage project online in Illinois is at an ADM demonstration project facility in Macon County. Richart said while it appears carbon has been successfully sequestered at the site for the past eleven years, the Heartland Greenway proposal is at a much larger, commercial scale.
"The scale is not compatible. And that concerns me from a point of view of being able to keep that carbon stored in the ground on a permanent basis, she said.
She also said pipelines running through Tazewell, Logan, and McLean counties are particularly concerning because the Mahomet aquifer runs through large parts of the region. It's a major drinking water source. Sequestered carbon would be stored underneath the water table. The U.S. EPA considers protection of drinking water resources as a factor when permitting for Class VI injection wells.
What happens next?
Navigator CO2 anticipates having all federal and state permitting wrapped up by the end of this year, with construction beginning in 2024 and initial commissioning starting by early-to-mid 2025.
Legislation backed by Illinois opponents of carbon capture pipelines would create a moratorium on new developments for two years, or until revised federal safety standards are taken up. Another bill would ban the usage of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines and introduce other state-level regulations and guidelines.
The federal government appears to be banking on carbon sequestration as at least one solution to the climate crisis. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 incentivizes the practice through changes to tax credits that offer direct payments to project developers and carbon emitters.
It upped the value of credits from $50 to $85 per metric ton for carbon captured from industrial sites and power plants and stored in saline geological formations, like the Mt. Simon Sandstone under Illinois. The revised plans for the Heartland Greenway pipeline would move up to 10 million metric tons of carbon per year.
"This is just something that in my view is allowing corporate interest to make a lot of money from dollars made available by the federal government," Richart said. She said the state's Climate and Equitable Jobs Act provides the roadmap for a clean energy future through investment in renewables.
But Burns-Thompson casts the pipeline as not only an economic opportunity, but an opportunity to cut down on carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
"Central Illinois really is well suited to provide a necessary resource to help support, you know, the development of carbon based manufacturing and the evolution of carbon based efficiency practices, not only just for processors in state or within the region, but really throughout the greater Midwest holistically," she said.
The study conducted by the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute strikes a balance.
"CCUS could play a critical role in combating climate change and decarbonizing the global economy," the study's authors wrote. "However, deploying CCUS at a larger scale in Illinois will require robust governance to ensure these systems are delivering desired societal outcomes and have broad and deep public support."