The North Dakota Public Service Commission has rejected Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions’ bid to lay 320 miles of its Midwest Carbon Express pipeline across North Dakota and pump carbon dioxide from ethanol plants across five states down into the Bakken oil fields northwest of Bismarck. The North Dakota PSC denied the permit because Summit Carbon Solutions did not respond adequately to landowner and commissioner concerns about property values, alternative routes, and mitigation of possible damage:
The Commission received extensive public comment during the hearings. Those testifying expressed broad concerns regarding eminent domain, safety, the policy of permanent CO2 sequestration and storage, setback distances, irreparable harm to underground drain tile systems, impacts on property values, and the ability to obtain liability insurance due to the project.
Landowners and intervenors testified that the project would cause adverse effects on the value of their property and residential development projects. Summit filed a letter from an appraisal company in response to these concerns. However, the filing was not brought forth during any of the public hearings and therefore the Commission and intervenors did not have the opportunity to ask questions about the document or question a witness from Summit.
Several landowners testified expressing concerns specific and unique to their properties. Landowners repeatedly testified that they had contacted Summit with requests for reroutes across their properties or other mitigation steps but heard nothing back from the company. The Commission felt that Summit has not taken steps to address outstanding legitimate impacts and concerns expressed by landowners or demonstrated why a reroute is not feasible. The Commission also requested additional information on a number of issues that came up during the hearings. Summit either did not adequately address these requests or did not tender a witness to answer the questions [North Dakota Public Service Commission, press release, 2023.08.04].
The NDPSC also says Summit Carbon Solutions failed to fix a cultural resource report branded substandard by the North Dakota State Historical Preservation Office. Summit also failed to explain to the PSC how it would deal with 14 areas of potential geological instability identified by the U.S. Geological Survey along the proposed pipeline route.
The NDPSC did not consider eminent domain, compliance with federal pipeline safety regulations, or the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide, saying those matters are outside the commission’s jurisdiction. Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann emphasized that he is not rendering judgment on CO2 sequestration and pipelines in general, just addressing the deficiencies in Summit’s application for this specific project.
Pipeline opponent and former Bismarck mayor Steve Bakken nonetheless cheers the decision as a win for property rights and local economic development:
The denial of the permit is “a win for private property rights in North Dakota, plain and simple,” said former Bismarck mayor Steve Bakken, who opposed the pipeline.
The proposed Bismarck-area route would have constrained future growth of the city, Bakken said. He also cited safety concerns for not knowing how the company would plan to respond to a pipeline break [Jack Dura, “North Dakota Regulators Deny Siting Permit for Summit Carbon Dioxide Pipeline; Company Will Reapply,” AP, 2023.08.04].
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hears Summit’s permit application September 11–22. State Treasurer Josh Haeder will sit in for PUC chair Kristie Fiegen, who must sit out because her husband’s sister owns land on the pipeline route. Similarly, North Dakota administrative law judge Tim Dawson sat in for PSC chair Julie Fedorchak, who recused herself from North Dakota’s hearing because she herself signed a contract with Summit to store carbon dioxide on her land in Oliver County.
The Iowa Utilities Board has scheduled its evidentiary hearing on the Midwest Carbon Express for August 22. Iowa opponents are saying that North Dakota’s denial means Summit has no place to ship its CO2 and that the IUB should thus delay its own hearings.
South Dakota and Iowa could still go ahead with their hearings, and if Summit wins their approval, the company could still start construction next year. But reapplying to the NDPSC and changing North Dakota commissioners’ minds could take another ten months.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has backed Summit’s pipeline from the beginning. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem kept silent on her Iowa Republican friends’ proposed CO2 pipeline until this June, when she wishy-washily muttered support for landowners against the pipeline.