Summit Carbon Solutions CEO talks lessons learned in new pipeline project

The CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions says the company is trying to learn from its mistakes as it moves forward in building a carbon pipeline that spans five states.

Lee Blank says early on, there were parts of the project that weren’t handled well with landowners and now “we have made 5,800 route changes to this pipeline to accommodate the landowner and those changes have been made, because we recognize now, as a company, what landowners think about their acres.”

He says addressing those issues are part of the reason the project is starting to become more accepted in agriculture. Blank tells Brownfield there’s also been more education about what a carbon pipeline can do for corn ethanol.

“We’ve seen a completely different attitude in North Dakota and Iowa and frankly, it’s been an opportunity to educate and be transparent about what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Carbon pipelines can help the U.S. ethanol industry capture, store and sequester carbon and help meet President Biden’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases, but these projects haven’t been easy to advance. Last October, the Navigator CO2 pipeline project was cancelled due to regulatory issues and government processes in South Dakota and Iowa.

There have been delays in Summit Carbon pipeline project’s timeline due to challenges securing construction permits in several states. He says updated rulings are expected in some states soon.

Blank says the state utilities board in Iowa is expected to issue their permitting decision by the end of the first quarter. Hearings are scheduled for the second quarter in North Dakota and Minnesota. Nebraska’s permits are being issued by county, but Stanton County denied the pipeline’s permit this week.

Blank says getting support in South Dakota has been the toughest.

“There’s a loud minority that works around our project and the story line changes. As we get closer to completion, they find something else to talk about. It could be landowner rights and safety of the pipeline,” he says. “In South Dakota, we were told we had a safety messaging issue. I asked the safety team to hold safety meetings in South Dakota. We held 10 of them and invited 4,000 South Dakotans to those meetings; only 150 showed up. We don’t have a safety issue and next, the discussion came up about us being foreign owned and that’s not true. Now, we’re getting pushback that we’re going to use too much water at our facility.”

Blank says if the ethanol industry wants this carbon pipeline, now is the time to get this done.

“This won’t happen again. No one will take this on to try and take on these hurdles again, spend a lot of money, deal with the political environments and utility commissions that have made it very difficult. Now is the time.”

Blank was a panelist during the National Ethanol Conference in San Diego.

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