Landowners optimistic after Summit Carbon ND permit denied

Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 10:05 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The North Dakota Public Service Commission has denied a permit for the Summit Carbon Solutions Capture Pipeline Project. Summit proposed the pipeline to capture CO2 from more than 30 ethanol plants in five midwestern states and to store it deep underground in North Dakota.

Pipeline projects in recent years have raised landowner concerns about eminent domain and the potential dangers of a pipeline break. Some landowners see North Dakota’s rejection of Summit’s permit as a positive sign that things may be turning in their favor.

On the same day that the South Dakota PUC resumed its hearing for the Navigator Pipeline, the Summit Carbon Pipeline Project hit another roadblock.

The North Dakota PSC said Summit Carbon Solutions failed to provide adequate documentation proving the safety of property and residents. For some landowners, the decision came as a surprise.

Ed Fischbach, a farmer in Spink County, was in Sioux Falls when he got the news. He made the trip for his son’s wedding this weekend, but now he said that they have even more to celebrate.

“Well, we were both surprised that it came today and we were both elated that it was the decision that it was,” Fischbach said. “Being that it was a unanimous decision, I think that makes it more powerful and it in our mind is a total rejection of the project. And we would hope now that maybe Summit would see that and maybe realize that people are not going to support that. If they can’t get that to go in North Dakota, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

In a statement, Summit said, “We will revisit our proposal and reapply for our permit. We’re committed to understanding and incorporating the considerations outlined in the decision. We are confident that our project supports state policies designed to boost key economic sectors: agriculture, ethanol, and energy.”

Navigator faces similar pushback from landowners. Fischbach says Navigator only has thirty percent of easement sign-ups needed to complete the project in South Dakota and Illinois only has thirteen percent of easement sign-ups. Navigator still has yet to have their sequestration permit to bury the carbon emissions.

Landowners are united across the state and they know that going forward, there is still a lot of work to be done before these situations get resolved.

“We’re not going to take anything for granted. We realize it’s a long way from being over. We’re hoping it will be over, but we realize in dealing with these companies in the past that they aren’t going to go away easily,” Fischbach said.

Even though Summit plans on reapplying for its permit, landowners hope that the continued pushback in midwestern states pushes them and other pipeline projects to give up.

“I don’t know how they can do this. I mean, it’s a pipeline right now to nowhere, and same thing with the Navigator Pipeline,” landowner Joy Hohn said. “They don’t have a sequestration site in Illinois. Both of these pipelines have come into our states and tried to bully landowners across the route.”

This new development means a lot for landowners along proposed pipeline routes, many of whom have been fighting against these projects every step of the way.

“This is a huge boost to all of us and hopefully North Dakota is just the beginning and we can get all of these states to align and stand for landowners and citizens across the route,” Hohn said. “It’s really been wearying on South Dakota landowners. I’ve been up in Pierre for the PUC hearings and you can just tell this is very emotional for them. It’s not only their concerns for the safety of their families if this pipeline were to rupture, but it’s also really ruining their plans for the future and for the economic development of their land.”

A PUC decision will be made on the Navigator pipeline in early September and PUC hearings for Summit Carbon Solutions will begin in September and a decision on their permit will be made in November.

“There’s just so many different things that are just wrong with this project: foreign investors, private for-profit companies, the safety concerns, they’re not releasing the plume modeling, so we have no idea really the risk that everybody is being put in and it only leads us to believe that if they don’t want to release that information, it must be really bad,” Hohn said.

“Well, it gives us hope. It tells us that people can win over money and big interests and it gives us confidence in some of the officials that make these decisions who we have not had much confidence in beforehand and now we do. That maybe they do listen to the people,” Fischbach expressed. “At least the three commissioners in North Dakota appear to have done that and we hope ours will follow suit as well and listen to the landowners with their concerns and please stop this so we can go back to our normal lives and protect our property.”

Other unified landowner efforts include pushing to adopt county ordinances, urging Governor Noem to pass a moratorium that would temporarily pause this process until safety regulations from PHMSA are in place, urging Governor Noem or state legislators to call a special session to pass legislation against the pipeline, participating in PUC hearings, and more.

Hohn said that some state legislators have signaled that they do not want to call a special session because they do not like the legislation as it’s currently being presented. Hohn said that landowners have a suggestion for legislators hesitant to help.

“We’re asking them to join with the legislators who are willing to help us and come up with legislation that can be brought forward and passed to help protect us,” Hohn said. “These are not the kind of pipeline companies that we want in South Dakota. I know South Dakota is an open-for-business state, but their track record with how they’ve been going around and approaching landowners in this whole process has been just despicable.”

Among the efforts landowners are making in South Dakota, a petition is circulating asking Governor Noem to advocate for them. It currently has over 1,500 signatures.