"It's not flammable. It's not combustible. It's just under pressure." - Lee Blank, Summit Carbon Solutions CEO
As Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures get closer to obtaining the permits and easements required for their carbon-capture pipelines, those still in the fight to stop them are pushing forward.
"I am probably too cynical here. But I look at something like that and I think, wait a minute, that's a private for-profit company who's making promises that apparently are non-binding, and there are no regulations to force them to either do it at first or what about three years from now, five years from now when it's out of the public mind," said Dave Hoferer, a Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Briar Cliff University who opposes the pipelines. "If the pipelines are built, are they going to continue to supply the necessary equipment or are they going to continue to give this? I don't think they will."
"And who's going to hold them accountable to do that?" I asked the panel of 10 landowners and private citizens opposing the pipelines.
"Exactly," Hoferer said. "There's nothing in place to hold them accountable."
For this group, it's more than just the fight for their own property. It's making sure their friends and neighbors see the bigger picture.
"Well, the other thing is the economic growth there behind them. But if you come around the largest city is Sioux City in our county, and this is going to be on the farm located on the corner of Buchanan Avenue and Highway 20," said Doyle Turner. "Well, that doesn't leave much room for Sioux City to grow East. And Sioux City can't grow north and it can't grow west and south is really difficult. So East is really the only viable option. Where we're going to get economic growth of our largest city and our county is stunted?
"And I wonder how many people out at Whispering Creek know that that pipeline is going to be right out their back door," said John Colyer.
"Do you think the general public understands, if they're not directly impacted by these pipelines, by these companies, do you think they understand what's happening?" I asked the panel. They answered with a collective 'no'.
"I'm always astounded by the people or the number of people that do not know anything," said Deb Main, a Woodbury County landowner.
"They are unaware and thank you for putting this in the media," said Vicki Hulse. She is fighting Navigator in Woodbury County District Court to keep their surveyors off of her property.
"They don't know if you say well, how about that pipeline?," said Ron Hartnett, a landowner from northeast Nebraska. "Because I've asked several people that live in the City of South Sioux, Dakota City. No, we don't know anything about it. Well, it's going to come through, this huge pipeline from Navigator and Summit and they go, you know. So it's kind of a hidden agenda."
"Well, they're only required to notify a certain quarter of landowners," said Main. "They don't have to notify the entire community. They don't have to hold meetings for the entire city. They're only required to notify 'X' number of people."
"And they don't even have to notify the neighbors of the landowners which I think is wrong because it also affects your neighbors," said Hulse. "I mean, it can go within, you know, a few 100 feet of your neighbors."
"It could be out in my field next to someone else's house," said Main.
That property is not just owned by private citizens. The pipelines are also slated to go through public land.
"Because it's it goes through not only private landowners but there's going to be waterways and other structures that are also of interest in public that these pipelines and other structures go through as well," said Aaron Daigh, a land and soil expert who has studied pipeline construction and impact.
As many landowners and experts say, there are other ways to capture carbon dioxide, like utilizing natural crops, trees and flowers.
"And I bet you everybody on this panel if it was presented to us that we would get paid to do some of those projects, and it would come to the landowners, that we'd all be in favor of that," said Roger Schmid. "I certainly would be."
Vicki Hulse has CRP on her property, which is where the pipeline is mapped to pass through, That CRP, part of the Conservation Reserve Program, will be hard to get back should it be removed during construction.
"And some farmers are now doing cover crops," said Stee Maxwell, another landowner fighting against the pipelines. "So that's sequestration of carbon so that’s an incentive for them to do that. And more, more and more farmers are continuing to do that. You know, to try and go through fields that the corn and beans are actually sequestering carbon as it is and kind of ruin that. That seems backward."
But for Summit and Navigator, and the dozens of ethanol plants they've each partnered with on this journey, they say carbon sequestration is the next step in ethanol innovation. And the time for that step forward is now.
"There's always going to be a fear of the unknown," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson with Navigator, "and we don't develop broad enough interstate pipeline infrastructure every day. This is something that happens maybe every decade or there often."
"So what I think the message that I try and deliver or that I would like the general public to understand is, we're an agricultural company putting an infrastructure project in. We are Ag-based, and it's also where my heart lies," said Lee. "The future of agriculture is what drives me. I don't want people to miss what this means for the future of the agricultural farm gate."
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