Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring byproduct of the environment. As humans, we expel it with every breath we take. Plants use carbon dioxide to create the oxygen we breathe in. Carbon dioxide is a critical component of life.
But in high quantities, carbon dioxide is toxic and even fatal. That is a major concern for those opposing liquid carbon capture pipelines proposed for the central United States.
"There is a twofold safety issue with that too because when it immediately explodes, that is a cryo-frozen product and it will freeze anything in the blast zone," Dave Hoferer told me during an interview with other local residents opposing the pipelines. "And then it warms up and spreads out in a blanket, whichever way the wind is blowing, whichever the temperature is."
The environment holds about .04 percent CO2. If concentrations get to 2%, that is when you can begin to feel the effects of carbon dioxide poisoning like headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased breathing, and confusion, according to health experts at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center.
"If it goes above 8%, then people have more profound nausea and vomiting," said Amanda Monroe-Rubendall, an RN with MercyOne Siouxland. "And then when it gets above 10%, that's when there's enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to actually displace the oxygen and people can suffocate."
Carbon dioxide is denser than air. Unlike natural gas or methane, it's colorless, tasteless and odorless. The carbon dioxide in these proposed pipelines will be pressurized into a liquid-like state. Should a pipeline rupture or leak and come to the surface, the pressurized CO2 would settle low to the ground, essentially replacing the oxygen we breathe.
This isn't just a danger for those living near the pipelines but it could also pose a problem for first responders. "It can also make rescue efforts difficult because the internal combustion engines like in your car have no oxygen in order to be able to run, so then rescue vehicles have a hard time operating. You need to get out of that area," said Monroe-Rubendall.
RESCUE AND SAFETY EFFORTS
"We have a statement from one of (the pipeline) agents that they are going to train our local fire department and furnish them the equipment," said Jim Colyer, a Woodbury County resident fighting against the pipelines, "but who's going to give them electric fire trucks and electric rescue equipment? Because we all know that our combustion engines need oxygen to run and this plume displaces all of the oxygen."
"They're already bringing in pipes and equipment and dumping it on people's land that has signed easements and they haven't even trained the area firefighters and EMTs yet," said Vicki Hulse.
PHMSA, the governmental agency monitoring pipelines, released new safety regulations after the Satartia, Mississippi carbon capture pipeline rupture in 2020. Summit and Navigator each say they are making safety a priority.
"Ultimately, we're building the safest pipeline in the history of the country and the reason for that is because the technology is so much more recent," said Summit CEO Lee Blank.
FOLLOW FOR MORE
"Along the Route: A Pipeline Discussion" is a multi-part series of reports looking at everything from the companies that want to build them to those "for" and those "against" and a deeper dive into to carbon and ethanol industries at the center of the project.
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