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CO2 Pipeline a 'False' Solution, Report Says

April 28, 2022
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N'West Iowa REVIEW

Elijah Helton

REGIONAL — Carbon capture is a dubious solution to climate change, policy researchers say, calling into question the necessity for carbon dioxide pipelines planned to dig through Iowa farmland.

The Oakland Institute released a report earlier this month outlining the science behind the pipelines and their purported benefits. The California think tank focuses on environmental issues and it adds to the growing national attention on the pipeline issue.

“If built, residents across the Midwest will be taking the risks associated with pipelines — including potential leaks, decreased property and crop values, and the likely allocation of public funds towards the project — while Summit Carbon Solutions and Bruce Rastetter will reap the profits,” the report concludes.

In short, it says the science doesn’t back it up.

Summit Carbon Solutions and its pipeline, the Midwest Carbon Express, is the case study and main subject of the report. The company is an Ames-based offshoot of Summit Agricultural Group, which industry giant Rastetter owns and runs as CEO.

Rastetter and his business has close ties to Iowa politics, giving ag-friendly candidates of both parties including former Iowa Govs. Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. Branstad sits as Summit Carbon’s senior policy adviser. Vilsack’s son, Jess, is the company’s lawyer.

The Oakland Institute report ties those connections to what it calls the “ineffective and environmentally unsustainable fossil fuel energy system.” That system is what spawned the pipeline idea in the first place.

The first place

A side effect of ethanol production is carbon dioxide emissions. The greenhouse gas is known as the largest contributor to global warming. The consensus of scientists from tiny independent researchers to the United Nations agrees this change in the climate already is hindering multiple human interests, including the agricultural sector.

This has led many jurisdictions to levy low CO2 standards. Those jurisdictions include California, where about one in eight Americans live. The Golden State mandates ethanol fuels come from plants with diminishing emissions in a system known as carbon intensity scoring.

Ethanol producers in N’West Iowa and elsewhere focus on lowering their score to make their product more marketable.

Summit Carbon says it has a solution. Jake Ketzner, vice president of public and governmental affairs, said the Midwest Carbon Express would keep scores low for decades to come.

Ketzner mentioned his company’s bipartisan makeup and said — regardless of varying political views on climate change — what’s good for business is clear.

“What we do know is the market is driving the demand for low-carbon fuels and we think that demand will continue to grow,” Ketzner said, later adding, “We have a choice in Iowa. Do we want to help produce that fuel that is being requested or not?”

The Summit pipeline, along with similar projects, use a process known as carbon capture and storage. The main idea of CCS is that greenhouse gases can be captured as they are produced, then stowed outside the atmosphere, not contributing to air pollution and climate change.

Also called sequestration, CCS can be done underground in rock formations that have a hard, solid top layer and a porous, spongy bottom layer. The gas can be pumped to the bottom and stored permanently. In theory, this would handle the CO2 byproduct of ethanol production without having to abandon the refineries in the name of lower emissions.

The Midwest Carbon Express has 33 partners across five states with 12 in Iowa, including Siouxland Energy Cooperative in Sioux Center.

“It’s going to be a boost for the ethanol industry and make it so these facilities are running at 100 percent. And when that happens, that’s more corn demand and better prices. This pipeline is definitely going to be beneficial to rural America and American farmers,” said Siouxland Energy Cooperative board member Kelly Nieuwenhuis.

Ethanol accounts for half the Iowa corn crop. Ketzner said CCS is vital to sustaining the Hawkeye State.

“The way I look at it is every other row of corn in the state of Iowa goes to ethanol. We want to make sure that demand, that market continues for years and decades to come,” he said. “We feel that our project allows our ethanol plant partners to succeed — and in our opinion, thrive — by being able to operate in a low-carbon environment.”

The second look

The Oakland Institute called into question the long-term benefits of CCS.

“Advocates for the Midwest Carbon Express fail to reckon with the growing body of evidence exposing CCS as a false climate solution. Despite the growing momentum behind CCS, these projects have systematically overpromised and underdelivered,” the report said.

The core of the problem is the amount of money spent to capture relatively little greenhouse gas. The sticker price of Midwest Carbon Express is $4.5 billion.

Those who are against the pipeline have argued the big bucks would be better spent on renewable energy which could power electric vehicles and reduce the need for biofuels. For them, it’s too large an investment for a small polluter like ethanol plants.