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Minnesota agency asserts authority over carbon capture pipelines

The decision means carbon pipeline companies must file for a siting permit with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Without statewide authority, permitting would have been left up to individual counties along the pipeline route.

Fairmont ethanol plant
The Green Plains ethanol plant in Fairmont, Minnesota, shown on March 11, 2022, is one of 32 plants that has signed on to the Summit Carbon Solutions carbon capture pipeline project.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota agency has asserted its authority over carbon capture pipelines that could be a boon to the ethanol industry but have proven unpopular with some landowners and environmental groups.

After some questions about how to interpret state statutes, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, May 19, voted unanimously that it has existing authority to permit the siting of carbon dioxide pipelines.

There are two carbon capture projects in the works in Minnesota, one by Summit Carbon Solutions and the other by Navigator CO2 Ventures. Both companies are seeking to capture carbon emissions from ethanol plants and transport the liquefied carbon dioxide under high pressure through a pipeline network.

The decision means those companies must file for a siting permit with the PUC. Without statewide authority, permitting would have been left up to individual counties along the pipeline route.

Capturing greenhouse gas emissions would lower the carbon score for the ethanol plants and give them access to sell fuel for a premium price in low-carbon fuel markets such as California.

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But some landowners in the path of proposed pipelines have expressed concerns about safety, damage to farmland and drain tile, and the use of eminent domain by companies to gain right-of-way.

The PUC decided that pressurized carbon dioxide is a toxic or corrosive gas, therefore subject to the PUC’s existing regulatory authority.

Attorney Hudson Kingston, representing Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, also testified that legislators “were saying that the commission should be regulating things that can kill people or things that can leak acid into waterways, and in both respects, these pipelines meet that definition as well.”

Representatives from Summit and Navigator argued that the PUC did not have regulatory authority.

The Summit pipeline would run through 10 counties in Minnesota: A feeder line Otter Tail and Wilken counties going west into North Dakota and a line through Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Renville, Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Cottonwood, Jackson and Martin counties going south into Iowa.

In addition to clarifying its authority, the PUC will undertake a rule-making process to clarify pipeline regulations.

“It’s important to update our rules,” PUC Chair Katie Sieben said in an interview after the meeting, adding that “CO2 wasn’t even contemplated,” as a pipeline product when current rules were written.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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