‘This is not a partisan issue, this is a safety issue’
South Dakota landowners speak out against proposed carbon pipeline
By Garrett Ammesmaki,
An informational meeting for concerned landowners on the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions C02 pipeline was held Tuesday, Oct. 18, at Harrisburg South Middle School.
Around 70 landowners and community members from various counties listened to a few members of the South Dakota Easement Team share their issues with the $3.7 billion pipeline that would stretch 469 miles in South Dakota and cross through Lincoln County.
The current map of the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline shows it passing between Lennox and Tea.
While speakers emphasized alleged corporate misuse of eminent domain, their main focus was on safety issues surrounding the pipeline — including potential ruptures that could spew toxic gas, and a current lack of acceptable federal regulations for CO2 pipelines.
Minnehaha County landowner Joy Hohn cited a recent report from the Pipeline Safety Trust that is critical of the current regulations when it comes to transporting C02. Those regulations are overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.
The “PHMSA currently has no regulations applicable to pipelines transporting C02 as a gas, liquid, or in a supercritical state of concentrations of C02,” according to the report. “This regulatory gap means that current federal pipeline safety regulations are clearly inadequate.”
Current regulations emphasize oil pipelines and do not take into account CO2, Hohn said.
On May 26 of this year, the administration announced that they are in the process of strengthening their regulations on C02 pipelines after a 2020 rupture in Mississippi resulted in the hospitalization of 45 people.
The rupture of a pipeline operated by Denbury Gulf Coast Pipeline LLC occurred in February of that year near the community of Satartia, following heavy rains that caused a landslide which created “excessive axial strain on the pipeline weld,” according to the failure investigation report by the PHMSA.
Local emergency responders were not informed by Denbury of the rupture and the nature of the “unique safety risks of a CO2 pipeline,” and had to act on reports of “green gas” and a “rotten egg smell.”
According to the report from Pipeline Safety Trust, the green gas and smell were caused by hydrogen sulfide which is an impurity that builds up within CO2 pipelines carrying “supercritical” CO2. Hydrogen sulfide in quantities greater than 300 ppm are “immediately dangerous to life or health.”
Though CO2 will naturally dissipate, “atmospheric conditions” at the accident site delayed dissipation of the gas, and the plume of asphyxiant descended upon the community.
“Pipeline operators are required to establish atmospheric models to prepare for emergencies,” and, even though Satartia was only a mile away from the pipeline,“Denbury’s model did not contemplate a release that could affect the Village of Satartia,” the report said.
Roughly 200 residents from the surrounding area had to be evacuated.
A majority of the roughly 5,150 miles of C02 pipelines in the country are overseen by the PHMSA and, though the Satartia event spurred the administration to draft new regulations, those changes aren’t expected to be implemented until October of 2024.
For Hohn and her colleagues, that’s not soon enough.
“This is not a partisan issue, this is a safety issue,” said Hohn. “If we don’t take action now, these big corporations will keep bulldozing us over making millions, actually billions, at our expense and, possibly, our lives.”
The easement team members also expressed grievances toward state and local politicians that haven’t spoken out against construction of the pipeline. They called on local lawmakers and politicians to pass county-wide legislation and regulations for any future pipelines.
They also urged their fellow community members to stand together and hold corporations responsible for any future issues that might be caused by pipeline ruptures.
“We gotta make these pipeline people liable for things,” said Clayton Rentschler, a land owner from the Flandreau area. “They can’t just come in here and walk all over us and expect us to take it.”
Rentschler expressed concerns over the pipeline going through the aquifer on his land which, due to the build up of hydrogen sulfide and carbonic acid within CO2 pipelines, expands the issue to include not just land owners, but other community members as well.
“What’s going to happen if that thing busts in our aquifer? This is why we need support from our commissioners, and not only our commissioners, but our mayors and our city council members have a say in this, too,” he said.
Alongside safety was a discussion of how land owners can effectively curtail any eminent domain claims made on their land, which mainly involves collective legal action.
The South Dakota Easement Team is comprised of mainly landowners working with the Nebraska-based law firm Domina Law Group.
“Brian Jorde and Domina Law have accomplished successful yet inexpensively priced efforts for landowners in Nebraska and Wisconsin, protecting their land against the Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge expansion plans, and has handled these fights from A-Z before,” according to the South Dakota Easement Team website.
Members of the easement team pay the legal fees collectively, meaning each member of the team pays a percentage that lessens for each land owner that becomes part of the easement team.
Tuesday’s meeting was organized by both the easement team and Dakota Rural Action, a South Dakota-based organization that focuses on agricultural issues.
Their next public meeting is scheduled for November 15 in Madison, South Dakota.