The Public Utilities Commission is holding hearings in Fort Pierre this week and likely next on the proposed Navigator Heartland Greenway carbon dioxide pipeline. Testifying yesterday, Navigator VP Elizabeth Burns-Thompson Told Commissioner Gary Hanson that the company will not share vital enviro-engineering information on what might happen if the pipeline ruptures saying we all are just too dumb to understand it:
Hanson also wondered why Navigator wanted its plume model overview kept confidential. Burns-Thompson said the complexity of the data and work was beyond the general public’s ability to understand [Bob Mercer, “Witness: Plume Modeling Too Complex for Public,” KELO-TV, 2023.07.25].
That’s funny: over a year ago, Navigator told Illinois landowner and likely pipeline neighbor Kathy Campbell that they would publish the plume modeling:
In May, Campbell emailed Navigator asking for their plume models, which would illustrate how carbon dioxide would be expected to spread in case of a rupture. Joshua Ward, a project supervisor representing the company, responded that: “The plume modeling has not been completed as of yet. Once the calculations have been finalized, Navigator will be sharing this data with all Stakeholders and Landowners. Navigator’s top priority at this time is landowner safety with the routing of the proposed pipeline through residential areas.”
When the company filed its application with the Illinois Commerce Commission in July, Campbell was frustrated to see that the filing noted the route was based in part on plume modeling. She said she got no response to her email on this note, but a Navigator surveyor “knocked on my door” soon after and told her that the plume models were being adjusted and would be shared.
“I have yet to see any plume models,” she said [Kari Lydersen, “Illinois Residents in Path of CO2 Pipeline Say Company Is Withholding Information,” Energy News Network, 2022.09.29].
Sure, modeling what happens when gas leaks from a pipeline is complex and costly, but complexity is no reason not to tell the public what that modeling shows. Navigator pays Burns-Thompson good money to explain complex issues to the lawmakers she lobbies all the time. Hiding complex data fuels more suspicion and opposition than any misunderstandings that might arise among us yokels from reading the complex data. Put out the data, put out the infographic explainers that Navigator PR make for a living, correct the misinterpretations and misrepresentations that may arise, and trust that interested reporters and citizens can make as much sense of the data as can the Public Utilities Commissioners whom they elect.