Morgan County Commissioners Get Surprise Visit from Navigator Reps on CO2 Pipeline

By Benjamin Cox on May 12, 2023 at 8:42am

The Morgan County Commissioners received a surprise guest during their meeting on Monday morning.

Danielle Anderson, Public Affairs Manager for Navigator CO2 in Illinois, brought a brief presentation of the Heartland Greenway CO2 sequestration pipeline during Public Comment. The pipeline’s construction permit is currently under review by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

According to Anderson’s presentation, 31 miles of the pipeline including a pump station will cut across the northern portion of the county as it travels to sequestration sites in Montgomery and Christian counties. The pipeline will carry CO2 captured at sites in South Dakota and Nebraska from ethanol and fertilizer plants.

The pipeline has received moratoriums from county boards in Sangamon, McDonough, and Montgomery counties due to heavy local opposition from farmers and environmentalists. Farmers are angry at the idea that the private company Navigator will be allowed to use eminent domain when necessary to complete the project. Previous reports by the Illinois Times and the Energy News Network have shown that Navigator have offered counties direct good neighbor payments for allowing the pipeline’s construction.

A number of counties and the Illinois Farm Bureau have filed motions to intervene in the ICC’s pipeline permit process. Bill Bodine, Director of Business and Regulatory Affairs at the Illinois Farm Bureau, says that members of the farm bureau voted for the process of sequestration of CO2 if it can be done safely at their annual policy meeting held in December. Bodine says that the Illinois Farm Bureau has taken a neutral stance on the permit for Navigator. He says it’s not the farm bureau’s tradition to take a position on individual projects, but the motion to intervention is to ensure that Navigator does adhere to the policies and regulations laid out in the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement (AIMA) created by the Illinois Department of Agriculture: “By intervening in the Illinois Commerce Commission case, that gives us the opportunity to raise issues or concerns that we see with the approval process. You may be aware that Navigator had filed previously, and then, withdrew that previous application. As a part of that previous application, we did raise a couple of concerns with the application of the project had moved forward, it would have had some issues with the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement that can provide protections for property owners that’s impacted by the project. So, by intervening in that case, that will allow us to raise those kind of issues if we see them again and make sure that the process is following along with the law and regulations.”

Bodine says that the carbon capture technology is expected to offer more direct impact to the agriculture community because it will allow ethanol plants and fertilizer plants to gain access to low-carbon fuel markets or sustainable aviation fuel markets: “They have to lower their carbon intensity scores to gain access to those markets. The only way they have been able to lower their carbon emission scores enough or propose to lower their carbon emission scores to get access to those markets is to also use carbon capture at the source.”

Part of the reason that Navigator’s initial permit was pulled the first time around was that the route chosen for the pipeline was that Navigator was struggling to obtain enough leases for the pipeline’s route. Danielle Anderson says that Navigator will only use eminent domain to complete the project as a last resort to get the project completed: “Eminent domain really is not a good business decision. It makes us no friends. It saves us no time, and it doesn’t save us any money. So that is a means of last resort. What we are doing is that we are currently working with those landowners and understanding their property because they understand it best. We are working with them on negotiations and all of the intricacies of their property. That is something that we are continuing to do. A moratorium doesn’t stop us from working with them. We are also staying in contact with the counties, as well. We are working with Sangamon. We’re working with the other counties that have moratoriums. We’re waiting for those any new potential regulations to come out.”

Anderson expects the project to begin some time in the second half of 2024, with operations slated to start in 2025. That is all pending the ICC permitting process and acquiring right-of-way easements with landowners.

Anderson says despite the moratoriums and local opposition as well as “pipeline fatigue” from previous projects, Navigator is working to be a good neighbor: “You definitely see pipeline fatigue from folks. We think we certainly fall in the shadows of operators that have come before us. We are trying to go above and beyond and make things contractual with landowners. We are also working with the landowners on making sure they have the knowledge of what we’re doing and that they are comfortable with this. Then, we have the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement. It’s very robust, and I would tell folks to look at that AIMA that has been finalized with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. I think that will give them a comfort level of how we are going about restoring the land to its original condition.”

Bodine says all landowners who have a project of this scope and size should always seek legal counsel. He says that any project that has an impact on your land’s future needs to have a thorough investigation with knowledgeable land experts to make sure it’s the best thing for you and your ground: “We suggest that any landowner talk with an attorney and seek legal counsel any time there is a project being proposed that would impact their property. These are projects that will have long-term impacts on a piece of farmland. These are long-term easements, and so the landowner should work with an attorney to go through those documents and make sure that the terms of those agreements work to their advantage. We always suggest when landowners are working through projects that they seek legal counsel that can help guide them and negotiate in an agreement that is hopefully better for them and be protective of the property that obviously they own.”

Anderson says that Navigator conducted an economic study and they anticipate 3,565 employment opportunities at peak construction of the project in Illinois, with a capital investment of $795 million. Looking specifically at Morgan County, they anticipate $9.5 million in personal income generated during the construction phase and $31 million in output. By 2030, Navigator says during the operations phase, Heartland Greenway will anticipate around $1.36 million in personal income and $7.6 million in output. Anderson did not provide temporary or local job numbers.

Safety also appears to be a large concern over the project. At a national level, he federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last updated regulations in 2022 after a CO2 pipeline burst in Satartia, Mississippi. The event in Mississippi exposed a lack of major oversight and outdated regulations by the government on the carbon capture process. Anderson says they are going above and beyond the current regulations by burying the pipeline deeper than required and using a state-of-the-art steel pipe for construction. She says that will also come with 24-7 monitoring with several fail safes. The pipeline will first have security monitored by a commercial power source with a back up of an uninterrupted power supply charged by solar panels, according to Anderson. In documents given to the Morgan County Commissioners, the state of the art leak detection will be monitored by fiber optic connected internet services that can detect ground disturbances and any cathodic problems along the pipeline. A remote operations control room will be manned 24/7/365 to monitor all SCADA information and remotely operate the pipeline’s valve and pump system.

Anderson said during the meeting that Navigator has been offering free training to local Emergency Management Services should the pipeline be breached or have a burst.

Morgan County Commissioner Chair Ginny Fanning said after the meeting on Monday that the only action that the commissioners have taken on any projects of this kind has been to oppose the use of eminent domain: “At this point, the only action that our board has taken is to say that we passed a resolution that we are against eminent domain. That’s the one stand that we have taken. Other than that, we have not done anything else.”

Anderson anticipates a ruling by the ICC on the pipeline’s operations permit some time at the end of February 2024.