For many residents in the Midwest, farming isn't their job. It's their life. Land passed from generation to generation, decades of history throughout the grounds.
We have a century farm," said Woodbury County landowner Deb Main, "My dad entrusted me to care for his land.Now, two multi-million dollar companies want to use that land to install carbon capture pipelines across the central United States.
"We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on easements to date to the U.S. landowner and we're not stopping," said Summit CEO Lee Blank. "We're going to continue to do that until we get ourselves in a position where we got 100%."
Summit Carbon Solutions plans to build a pipeline that will take liquid CO2 from ethanol plants in five states into an underground storage facility in Bismarck, North Dakota. Heartland Greenway's Navigator CO2 Ventures pipeline runs on the same concept. Capture liquid CO2 and store it underground in south-central Illinois. To do this, both companies need voluntary easements from landowners along the route of their pipelines, giving them permission to pass through hundreds of miles of private land.
"We have great success in all areas throughout the project footprint to date, but that is necessarily a long-term process," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Navigator. "So again, landowner negotiations necessarily are weeks and months type of progress, not something that you do in a matter of days."
Those negotiations are for easements that give each company access to private land to work and install the pipeline.
"Negotiation is far more broad than that," said Burns-Thompson. "Negotiation is how that pipeline is put in. Is there different and additional restoration steps that you as a landowner want to include or delineate as part of that? Is there a different placement of that pipe that you would like to see as part of that? So again, placement of the pipe, how we do the work, and then ultimately also how that compensation looks. That is what is encompassed in that negotiation."
Kelly Nieuwenhuis lives and farms near Primghar, Iowa. Farming is a family business.
So we're pretty proud of that, that we have a family farm and been doing it for 40 years.
He's already reached easement agreements with both Summit and Navigator for access to his farmland. "We negotiated with both of them," he told me on his farm in northwest Iowa. "We had very respectable land agents come to our farms and visit with us and we probably met with them three or four times at least and we asked for a few other things that we wanted done. And they were happy to do that."
Part of the easement agreement details potential property damage, and for farmland, potential crop losses. That isn't just for the time of construction, but for several years after.
"We feel like we're partnering with the U.S. agricultural landowner, as well as others that have easements and with those partnerships, we're working through this economic discussion," said Blank.
"Also talking through the nuts and bolts of compensation," said Burns-Thompson. "And so making sure that what we're putting forward is something that's fair and that's what's in the eyes of the beholder. So we necessarily want to make sure that we're taking the time to talk to folks and figuring out something that's fair and equitable."
Summit Carbon Solutions has more than 65% of the easements needed for their project footprint, according to the latest numbers sent to Siouxland News on April 3, 2023.
Navigator CO2 Ventures says they have spent upwards of $15.5 million on easement payments to landowners in the project path as of April 5, 2023.
LANDOWNERS HOLDING OUT
But not everyone in the path of the pipeline is on board.
"Without the limitation of contact with landowners, then land agents are still harassing landowners incessantly to sign easements and offering more and more and more money, which is the bribery situation. It's not a business plan. It's a bribery situation."
Deb Main is one of more than a dozen landowners in the tri-state area who oppose these pipelines. She has yet to sign an easement to give the companies access to her land.
"And that's a proposed pipeline route also," she explained about the proposed pipeline path through her property. "It doesn't mean they're going to stick with that because some people have signed an easement because it just went across the corner of my property. Well, now it goes like (Roger's property), down the middle because they can put it anywhere on your property they want."
I sat down with nearly a dozen landowners and residents who oppose the pipelines to discuss why they are fighting back against these multi-million dollar companies. One of their biggest points was easements.
"It goes from a six-inch pipeline to a 24-inch pipeline," said Stee Maxwell, another landowner from northwest Iowa. "It seems to be a lot of variances as far as how large the pipeline is, and like to say we got that much pressure coming through that pipeline, that's going to be..."
"And the depths," echoed Jim Colyer. "I've heard from three foot to eight foot. So, what is it going to be? During these informative meetings, you hear lots of different stories."
Landowners were sent certified letters in 2021, informing them of the pipelines and informational meetings held in each county the pipelines were passing through.
"At the informative meetings that are required in Iowa by the Iowa Utilities Board," said Main, "you not only got the information from the pipeline company, but outside the meeting, they had survey companies there and land agents and they invited you to go talk with them and schedule your survey and sign an easement before you knew anything about this."
Both companies are still working with landowners on negotiations to find an agreement that suits the needs of all parties involved.
We want to make sure that this truly is a dialogue to negotiation that's two-sided and we're coming to the table with ears wide open," said Burns-Thompson."We haven't had the opportunity to really explain the economic model," said Blank. "Some of the economics that we're delivering, a lot of the economics we're delivering, they're different because every farmer landowner has got a different situation. There may be things that are unique, that could change the economics, the agricultural economics around the easements that we actually are paying for."
That payment the companies are offering, Nieuwenhuis says, is satisfactory.
"I figured on my property where the permanent easement was, if I was guaranteed a $300 an acre profit forever, it would take me over 100 years equal this one-time payment," Nieuwenhuis explained, "so pretty satisfied with the compensation."
But for some, that land they hold is priceless.
"The easements are permanent easements," said Jodie Wilson, who is fighting for her mother's rights as a property owner. "They are just not for the project. They get done with it after they’ve collected all of their tax credits, they could sell it to another company and we have no say about it and we just have to live with it."
Jim Colyer: It’s forever.
Roger Schmid: It hangs on your land forever.
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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