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Alan Guebert: Summit at the heart of 'The Great Carbon Boondoggle'

January 24, 2023
Farm Forum

Alan Guebert

Many policy choices are made on politics alone while other key decision-making elements like cost, science, and even common sense play a lesser or no role at all.

In the old days, this political math resulted in — literally and figuratively — “bridges to nowhere” that cost millions and did little other than raise the local politician’s reelection odds.

Today, these exercises of magical thinking cost billions and enrich local oligarchs and distant financiers who then, in turn, bankroll the campaigns of favor-delivering politicians to ensure their gravy train continues to run on time.

Last November, the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank in Oakland, CA, published a detailed report on one of these costly, gassy trains: Summit Carbon Solutions’ 2,000-mile carbon pipeline across Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Summit calls its expensive, scientifically-dubious project the Midwest Carbon Express because it hopes to tie 33 “biorefineries” — mostly ethanol plants — together with a pipeline ranging from “four inches to two feet in diameter and placed at least four feet underground” to carry compressed CO2 to North Dakota.

Once there, Summit claims, the CO2 will be “‘permanently and safely stored underground.’”

While all of that scrubbed pleasant-speak may sound like an innovative, ag-based way to somewhat balance the amount of climate-changing carbon emitted by today’s intensive livestock and cropping systems, the Oakland Institute sees it as a pressurized pipeline of baloney. 

In fact, the Institute uses another descriptive B word in the title of its 31-page report that gets right to the heart of Summit’s plan; it calls it “The Great Carbon Boondoggle.” Both this week and next we’ll examine what Oakland found in its deep dive into Summit’s promises, partners, and finances and why now more farmers seem to be denying Summit easements across their land than allowing them.