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Plans for a CO2 pipeline in Illinois are on hold

An ethanol refinery in Chancellor, S.D., one of many in the midwest, is shown, July 22, 2021. North Dakota’s biggest oil driller says it will commit $250 million to help fund a proposed pipeline that would gather carbon dioxide produced by ethanol plants across the Midwest and pump it underground for permanent storage.

CHAMPAIGN – Plans for a carbon dioxide pipeline in Illinois have been temporarily halted.

Navigator Heartland Greenway LLC has voluntarily withdrawn its Application for a Certificate of Authority to construct the pipeline that would cross through 13 Illinois counties.

Navigator said it plans to refile a new application with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) next month, including plans for an additional route.

Environmental groups and landowners from around Illinois have organized to protest the pipeline.

Pamela Richert is the co-founder of the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. She said Navigator was forced to withdraw its application after failing to secure land agreements for a sequestration site.

Richert said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the development.

“The Illinois Commerce Commission doesn’t look at sequestration sites, they look at pipelines,” she said. But without a place to sequester the CO2 that would be travelling through the pipeline, the ICC deemed Navigator’s application incomplete.

The company approached several residents in Christian County about easement agreements that would allow Navigator to sequester CO2 under their land, according to Richert. But those agreements were roundly rebuffed.

Karen Brockelsby said her family was approached a year ago with an offer to buy pore space underlying their Christian County farm, where carbon from the pipeline would be sequestered in the soil 6000 feet underground.

When the family declined to sell, Brockelsby said Navigator proposed a leasing agreement.

“I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the details, because by that point, we had determined we didn’t want any part of it,” Brockelsby said of the lease. Navigator hasn’t been able to address any of the family’s safety concerns, she said. And she doesn’t think it’s worth the risk.

“The particular farm of ours that they approached us about, my son and his wife and four children live on that farm,” she said.

Brockelsby said she isn’t alone in opposing CO2 sequestration in Christian County. “We have a good group of people here who have all recognized the dangers and agreed to not sign anything with (Navigator) Heartland Greenway,” she said.

The dangers, according to Brockelsby, include the risk of a leak or rupture in the pipeline. In 2020, a CO2 pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi, sickening dozens of people.

But farmers also have concerns about the effects a pipeline could have on soil quality and crop yield. And there are worries that sequestered carbon could lead to the contamination of aquifers.

“When carbon dioxide combines with water, it forms carbonic acid, which has the potential to leach heavy metals out of the rocks and the aquifer and deposit those heavy metals such as arsenic and lead into the water sources,” said Brockelsby.

That’s not just a threat to farmers, Brockelsby said, but to everyone. And given the risk, she hopes counties throughout the state will mount a similar resistance to Navigator’s pipeline.

“I would like to slow them down to the point where they give up on Illinois entirely,” Brocklesby said. “I don’t really want it in anybody else’s backyard either, because I believe it’s dangerous. I believe it’s a threat to the future of farming in Illinois.

Picture of Sarah Nardi

Sarah Nardi

Sarah Nardi began her career in print but converted to radio after realizing how much she loved the sound of her own voice. She joined WILL in 2023 time as a reporter at WGLT in Bloomington and as an Arts & Culture columnist with the Chicago Reader.

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