North Dakota denies Summit Carbon a pipeline permit

Company statement indicates it might file another application

By: - August 4, 2023 4:44 pm
A map of Summit Carbon Solutions' proposed carbon-capture pipeline. (Courtesy of Summit Carbon Solutions)

A map of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed carbon-capture pipeline. (Courtesy of Summit Carbon Solutions)

Summit Carbon Solutions has failed to minimize the negative impacts of its proposed carbon dioxide pipeline in North Dakota and will not be permitted to construct it, state regulators decided on Friday.

The state is a key part of the company’s $5 billion project, which would span more than 2,000 miles in five states, including South Dakota. The company’s plan is to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground sequestration.

That state’s three-person Public Service Commission unanimously denied the company a route permit.

“The commission finds that (Summit Carbon Solutions) has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the location, construction, operation and maintenance of the project will produce minimum adverse impacts upon the welfare of the citizens of North Dakota,” the commission wrote in its Friday order.

Summit can appeal the decision in state court but indicated on Friday that it will file a new application with a revised proposal.

“We’re committed to understanding and incorporating the considerations outlined in the decision,” said Sabrina Zenor, a Summit spokesperson. “We are confident that our project supports state policies designed to boost key economic sectors: agriculture, ethanol, and energy.”

Zenor did not say when that new application would be submitted. The application that was denied was submitted in October 2022, and the process took about 10 months, according to state records.

Summit has a permit hearing in South Dakota scheduled for Sept. 11-22; another company seeking to build a separate carbon pipeline, Navigator CO2, is currently in the midst of a multi-day hearing before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

Opposing viewpoints

The project is meant to capitalize on generous federal tax incentives that reward the ethanol plants for sequestering carbon dioxide they would otherwise emit into the atmosphere or for producing low-carbon fuels. It would also allow the plants to sell their ethanol in low-carbon-fuel markets at potentially higher prices.

A study commissioned by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association — a lobbying group that supports Summit’s proposal — concluded that ethanol plants could more than triple their profits by connecting to a pipeline like Summit’s.

Federal officials have said the pipelines are necessary for helping the country achieve its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but opponents of the projects say they will prolong the use of fossil fuels and delay a transition to electric vehicles that can be powered by wind and solar energy.

There is also growing public outcry over property rights of landowners in the path of the projects. Summit has filed dozens of eminent domain cases in South Dakota, seeking to gain access to land from landowners who’ve so far refused to grant it.

The company said recently about 950 parcels of land in Iowa might be subject to eminent domain at its Iowa Utilities Board hearing that starts Aug. 22. That hearing could go on for weeks or months.

South Dakota lawmakers considered a bill last winter that would have prohibited the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines, but the bill was rejected.

North Dakota deficiencies

About 320 miles of Summit’s route is planned for North Dakota. Its end point is northwest of Bismarck, where it would be pumped deep into the ground.

But the North Dakota commissioners found that Summit’s proposal doesn’t minimize its impact on the environment and residents or didn’t have sufficient proof that it does.

Among the deficiencies the commissioners noted were:

  • Summit did not fully allay the concerns of the State Historical Society of North Dakota about its route’s effects on cultural sites.
  • The pipeline’s effects on property values was not thoroughly shown to be minimized.
  • Summit did not show it had fully considered alternative routes to avoid public wildlife areas and to address “legitimate impacts expressed by landowners.”
  • The company did not address how it would build and operate its pipeline in more than a dozen areas that have potential geologic instability.

The commission noted that its decision did not hinge on eminent domain or safety concerns, which it deemed outside of its purview.

Pipeline opponents said the commission’s decision is a significant win for them.

“I think it’s precedent setting,” said Jess Mazour, of the Sierra Club of Iowa. “It shows us that organized people who are willing to work together for a common cause can beat big money, like Summit’s pipeline. … It also shows us that Iowa needs to slow down.”

Summit’s project was initially estimated to cost about $4.5 billion, but the company’s chief operating officer testified to the North Dakota commissioners that it would be about $5.5 billion. Summit has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to landowners up front for easements and will not recoup that money if the pipeline isn’t built.

“We applaud the Public Service Commission for their courage and thoughtfulness in denying Summit’s application and encourage the other states to follow suit,” said Brian Jorde, an Omaha, Nebraska, attorney who represents dozens of landowners in several states who oppose the pipeline projects.

This story was originally published by Iowa Capital Dispatch, which like South Dakota Searchlight is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Jared Strong is the senior reporter for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. He has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.