Illinois bills seek to regulate carbon dioxide pipelines and sequestration 

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Carbon dioxide pipeline and sequestration projects would face significant new scrutiny and regulations under proposed legislation introduced this week in Illinois.

Advocates who helped draft the proposal (SB 3930, HB 5814) say it is crucial to institute standards and protections, as multiple companies seek to sequester carbon in Illinois’ Mt. Simon sandstone geology and reap lucrative federal tax credits. The legislation was formally introduced Monday.

State lawmakers held a hearing earlier this month on separate bills (HB 4835, SB 3441) that would place a moratorium on carbon dioxide pipelines for four years or until new federal safety regulations are adopted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Many Illinois residents and pipeline opponents are hoping both bills pass, to stop pipeline construction while the state studies safety issues, appropriate setbacks and other factors.

Companies seeking to sequester carbon dioxide in Illinois have so far failed to secure county approvals for proposed sites, and two major carbon dioxide pipeline proposals — from the companies Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions — were withdrawn from consideration by the Illinois Commerce Commission last year. 

But Wolf is expected to refile its application for a necessary certificate of authority. And the commerce commission is currently considering a proposal from One Earth Energy for a six-mile pipeline that — if built — is expected to spur proposals for longer pipelines that would connect to it and a proposed sequestration site.

The newly proposed legislation, as described in a summary, includes: “pipeline setbacks for safe evacuation, limits on eminent domain, expanded monitoring at carbon sequestration sites, provisions for long-term liability in the event of disaster, a ban on the use of captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.”

It would also mandate that when sequestration sites are proposed, regulatory agencies review life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and consider alternatives to carbon sequestration. The legislation bans injecting carbon dioxide through the Mahomet Aquifer, labeled by the U.S. EPA as the area’s only sole-source aquifer. And it would mandate halts in sequestration if certain magnitudes of seismic activity are detected.

The bill would require the state to study appropriate setbacks from residences, businesses and infrastructure to protect from harm if a pipeline ruptures or leaks. Little or no government guidance or regulation currently exists on carbon dioxide pipeline setbacks, advocates note.

“There is not any federal law, any state law, nothing right now that says you cannot be located ‘x’ distance from people’s homes, schools, daycares,” said Jenny Cassel, an Earthjustice senior attorney involved in drafting the bill. “The problem is the federal government is never going to do it, because local zoning is not part of their purview.”

Pam Richart, a central Illinois resident and co-founder of the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines, added that, “The proposed legislation would demand the state study setbacks based on how carbon dioxide behaves. If it were to rupture, where would it go?”

Cassel explained that once the study is done, the Illinois EPA would be tasked with developing routing standards and modeling criteria that a company must follow when applying for a pipeline route permit. Currently, no such requirement for a permit exists. Pipelines must receive a certificate of authority from the Illinois Commerce Commission, but the commission focuses largely on whether the pipeline would be in the public benefit.

“As long as we have this tax incentive that is dangling money in front of these companies, until they have a clear set of protections that makes them think twice about whether it really is worth it, or until the state of Illinois says ‘We’re not willing to take this risk,’” proposals will continue, Cassel said.

Expanded requirements

The legislation goes beyond similar bills introduced last year and would mandate extensive research and state permitting be done before a company can apply to the Illinois Commerce Commission for a certificate. 

Currently there are no requirements that companies create or release models showing how a carbon dioxide plume would likely spread in case of a rupture. The new bill would require such modeling for a necessary Illinois EPA permit. And it would mandate companies put up funds for future cleanup and maintenance of sequestration sites.

“Industry is trying to hand the keys to the state as soon as they’re done and say, ‘Good luck with that,’” Cassel said. “We think Illinois already has enough Superfund sites, mines, wells, all sorts of other environmental hazards that need to be reclaimed. We need to set aside real cash to address if something goes wrong.”

She stressed that unlike in other geologies, carbon dioxide will likely remain gaseous and unstable in the state’s sandstone formation. This could especially be a concern if new injection wells are added for expanded sequestration, she said.

“The more you mess with an underground formation, the more you’re creating the possibility the plume is going to be shifted underground,” Cassel said. “If you change pressure over here, there’s a decrease in pressure in the same underground formation. It’s not like you can count on the pressure remaining the same over time.”

In recent years, companies including One Earth and Navigator have applied for pipeline permits without having secured rights for a place to sequester the carbon dioxide.

Obtaining necessary permission from landowners and local county boards has proved difficult. Navigator offered to pay county boards for help facilitating their sequestration applications, but multiple boards turned them down.

The state’s Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group representing ethanol producers, did not respond to requests for comment. One Earth Energy also did not respond. 

“Industry needs legislation,” said Richart. “They can’t move forward without addressing the regulatory gaps that exist for ownership and utilization of pore space.”

Changing priorities

In 2011, Illinois passed a law to facilitate the construction of carbon dioxide pipelines and sequestration, and specifically to facilitate the proposed FutureGen project, a multibillion-dollar effort to store carbon dioxide underground at the site of a Meredosia, Illinois, coal plant. 

That law says in part: “carbon dioxide pipelines are critical to the promotion and use of Illinois coal,” and are “a benefit to the welfare of Illinois.”

The FutureGen project died in 2015, but the law continues to be the only specific state guidance on carbon dioxide sequestration and transport. 

The pipelines recently proposed in the state are primarily linked to ethanol plants. But carbon dioxide pipelines are also increasingly likely to be proposed to sequester carbon dioxide from the production of “blue hydrogen” — made from natural gas — since the federal government is offering lucrative tax incentives for hydrogen and $1 billion for a Midwestern hydrogen hub.

Kathy Campbell, an audiologist and professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University, testified before the commerce commission regarding the proposed Wolf, Navigator and One Earth pipelines.

The Navigator pipeline would have passed right through Campbell’s land in central Illinois. Though that proposal was canceled in the wake of massive public opposition and skepticism from the commerce commission, Campbell feels this is only the beginning of a carbon dioxide rush.

“I won’t feel real comfortable until we get some legislation passed,” Campbell said. “We need our moratorium bill, and we need more study.”

Yet another Illinois bill (SB 2860), backed by the Illinois Farm Bureau, would prohibit the use of eminent domain to secure carbon dioxide pipeline rights of way. Illinois farmers are worried about their land being seized through eminent domain for pipelines.Industry players with interests in carbon dioxide transport and sequestration meanwhile are backing a bill (HB 0569) that would allow sequestration operators to use underground pore space even if landowners are opposed, while setting procedures for land access and compensation for damage to land.

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