Proposed pipeline is the first CO2 pipeline to seek a permit in Minnesota

By Robert Williams

Editor, Frazee-Vergas Forum

Otter Tail County is one of two counties that will receive an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a comprehensive review of Summit Carbon Solution’s route permit application for a carbon dioxide (CO2) pipeline.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) formally accepted Summit Carbon Solution’s route permit application last week for the pipeline that will stretch 28 miles from the Green Plains Ethanol Plant near Fergus Falls to Breckenridge and into North Dakota. Accepting the application as complete begins the permitting process that will involve many opportunities for public engagement as the record is developed. 

This is the first CO2 pipeline to seek a permit in Minnesota and has generated significant interest. The Commission heard from hundreds of citizens, landowners, Tribal representatives, labor organizations, and other stakeholders asking for a more environmental analysis.

“We had a lot of conversation and heard from many groups and individuals wanting to make sure the state got this process right,” said Commission Chair Katie Sieben. “With this being the first carbon pipeline in Minnesota, the Commission wants to ensure we are setting a process that is thorough, transparent, and protective.”

An EIS comprehensively describes and analyzes a project that may have significant impacts to the environment and compares it to project alternatives. An EIS also has multiple opportunities for public participation.

Montevideo-based CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) issued a statement on the EIS approval.

“We’re very pleased with the PUC’s decision to order an EIS,” said Sarah Mooradian, CURE’s Government Relations Policy Director. “The process will ensure a detailed review of the proposed project’s potential impacts on people, communities, the environment, and the economy. People across Minnesota, as well as those in impacted communities, will also have the opportunity to share their concerns. As a number of the Commissioners noted, the public must be able to trust that the PUC is carefully assessing the impacts of this first-of-its-kind project, and an EIS offers a far more robust analysis than what Summit was arguing for.”

In September, Summit Carbon filed for a permit for a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline—the Otter Tail to Wilkin Carbon Dioxide Pipeline Project. This pipeline is part of a $4.5 billion project to collect carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol plants in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota and store the CO2 underground in North Dakota.

“The Commission wants to ensure there is thorough environmental review and robust public input,” Sieben said. “Ordering an EIS is the best way to get that.”

CURE also expressed concerns about the PUC’s decision to deny a petition for review of the entire geography of the pipeline project in the state. According to maps from Summit’s website, the proposed project in Minnesota will include 239.64 miles of pipeline and run through Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Martin, Redwood, Renville, and Yellow Medicine Counties in addition to Otter Tail and Wilkin Counties.

In November 2021, CURE submitted a Citizen Petition—a process provided under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)—on behalf of hundreds of Minnesotans requesting review of the entire proposed pipeline route in Minnesota, not just segments. The PUC dismissed that MEPA petition without addressing the claims it brought about the wider, cumulative impacts of the project. 

Peg Furshong, CURE’s Programs Director, has been organizing landowners and other community members who the pipeline will directly impact. 

“The Commissioners emphasized that they were listening to the voices of the hundreds of Minnesotans who are alarmed by Summit’s attempts to bring this hazardous project to Minnesota,” she said. “So, it’s perplexing that they ignored those Minnesotans who used their right under MEPA to bring forward concerns and questions about the impact this large-scale pipeline network will have throughout the state. Taking this piecemeal approach runs the risk of missing the cumulative impacts of this massive project.”

According to Summit Carbon Solutions project footprint, CO2 will be permanently and safely stored underground in deep geologic storage locations. Doing so will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol production and enhance the long-term economic viability of the ethanol and agriculture industries. As one of the largest private investments in the region, Summit Carbon Solutions’ project will generate thousands of jobs during construction and hundreds of full-time jobs once operational.

The company lists environmental benefits once the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world is completed as having the capacity to capture and permanently store up to 12 million tons of CO2 every year. That’s the equivalent of removing 2.6 million vehicles from the roads annually.

Global accounting firm Ernst & Young conducted a study that found Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed project will create jobs, generate new tax revenue for local communities, support local suppliers, and strengthen the Midwest’s regional economy.

Individual Minnesotans living in the geography of Summit’s pipeline project also questioned whether the PUC and state leaders are truly listening to their concerns. 

“As a landowner from Redwood County, I am disappointed that the PUC did not order the EIS for the entire proposed route in Minnesota,” Dan Henriksen, a farmer and landowner near Vesta, said. “Summit is signing easements with my neighbors, and it is clear that they have plans for many more miles in Minnesota than is in their current route permit application.”

Now that an EIS has been ordered for the Otter Tail and Wilkin County segment of the CO2 pipeline, the environmental review process will provide a number of opportunities for public engagement in the form of public meetings and written comment periods. Once completed, the EIS is intended to inform PUC and other state agency permitting decisions but does not guarantee project approval.