Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, left, of Navigator CO2, participates in a debate about carbon dioxide pipelines Aug. 22, 2023, at Dacotah Bank Event Center in Brookings while moderator Sara Frankenstein looks on. (Courtesy of David Bordewyk)
A recently failed permit application is not necessarily the end of a carbon capture pipeline company’s goal of building in South Dakota and four other states, according to a company spokesperson.
“We have not taken any state off the map,” Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, of Navigator CO2, told South Dakota Searchlight in an interview Friday.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission unanimously voted Sept. 6 to deny Navigator’s application for a construction permit.
Since then, Burns-Thompson said, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company has released contracted land agents and walked back some business operations “in the South Dakota footprint.” The company is reallocating resources elsewhere, at least until it sees the written permit-denial order from the commission, which is due by Sept. 26.
“It’s important for us to see that in black and white,” Burns-Thompson said, adding she could not say what a new approach in South Dakota would look like “until we see that legal opinion.”
Burns-Thompson said speculation that Navigator is giving up on the South Dakota portion of its project is based on text messages between some landowners and recently released contractors who are not company employees.
“No letters or messages indicating a withdrawal from South Dakota were sent on behalf of Navigator,” she said.
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A northwest Iowa landowner reported receiving such a message.
Amy Solsma, whose land is in the path of Navigator’s project, is among those whose easement negotiations have been suspended. A land agent contracted by Navigator told her the “project is getting shut down permanently,” according to a text message exchange.
“It’s a small win because, trust me, I don’t believe anything they ever do,” Solsma said.
Her farm in O’Brien County lies near the start of the pipeline’s potential link to South Dakota from Iowa. There’s a pipeline junction just to the east of the farm where it would branch to ethanol plants in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Solsma said one of her neighbors received a similar message about the project.
State regulators in Iowa are set to consider a schedule for Navigator’s permit request next month. It’s unclear when a final evidentiary hearing will be set, but the company seeks a decision on its permit request by next fall.
Navigator applied for its South Dakota permit in September 2022, outlining plans for a $3 billion, 1,300-mile pipeline to transport carbon dioxide in liquid form from 21 ethanol and fertilizer plants across five states to an underground sequestration site in Illinois. In eastern South Dakota, the project would cover 111.9 miles in Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner counties.
Part of the project’s attraction is its eligibility for annual federal tax credits of $85 per metric ton of sequestered carbon. The federal government offers the credit as an incentive to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it, as a means of combating climate change. Carbon dioxide is emitted by ethanol plants as part of the process of converting corn into the fuel additive.
Another company proposing a similar project, Summit Carbon Solutions, also suffered recent rejections of its permit applications in North Dakota and South Dakota. Summit’s permit hearings in Iowa are ongoing.
Summit has already sought reconsideration in North Dakota and has announced it plans to refine its proposal and reapply in South Dakota.
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