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Shelby County to consider setbacks for carbon capture pipelines

Young corn plants grow next to the Guardian Energy ethanol plant in Janesville, Minn. Five years ago, the U.S. government projected that in 2012, ethanol production would use up 30 percent of the nation's corn supply. Last year, it used 40 percent.
Glen Stubbe
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Fifty-seven percent of Iowa-grown corn is used for ethanol production.

A western Iowa county is considering an ordinance that would establish setbacks for carbon capture pipelines.

The ordinance comes in response to Shelby County residents’ concerns on how Summit Carbon Solutions’ 2,000 mile proposed pipeline could impact local safety and economic development. Many residents have expressed concern about how its local communities would respond to a rupture.

County board of supervisor Steve Kenkel said the county wants to take action to address those concerns.

“Our job is not to stop it,” Kenkel said. “We all can play in the same sandbox, but you have to abide by our rules and guarantee us that we can protect the areas that we need to grow and be safe.”

Courtney Ryan, a spokesperson for Summit Carbon Solutions, said the ordinance is "inconsistent" with Iowa law. She said Summit has partnered with 900 landowners across Iowa to sign 1,550 easement agreements that make up 53% of the proposed Iowa route.

At a Montgomery County board meeting in September, another company representative stated that they did not plan to abide by the Shelby County ordinance.

“In regards to the ordinance that has been reviewed tonight, I would state that we do not plan to follow what is in place in this ordinance in regards to Shelby County,” project manager Grant Terry said. “Now, that being said, we're not opposed to ordinances.”

He said the company is working with other counties on safety ordinances.

The proposed setbacks

The zoning ordinance would limit how close a hazardous liquid pipeline could be built to schools, churches, hospitals and nursing homes and establish a required separation distance of half of a mile.

It would also dictate that the pipeline must sit at least 1,000 feet away from occupied structures, confined animal feeding operations and public wastewater treatment plants. The ordinance prohibits the carbon capture pipeline from being built within 2 miles of city limits.

Currently, Summit’s proposed path would cross through the town limits of Earling in Shelby County.

The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.
Courtesy: Summit Carbon Solutions
The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.

But, superintendent of Harlan Schools Jenny Barnett said that she’s worried about how that could stifle economic growth for the community.

“If people aren't able to build homes or feel maybe scared to live in a community that's near a pipeline due to a possible rupture, then that inhibits a lot of things within our community,” Barnett said.

Emergency response

The ordinance also aims to establish emergency response plans for carbon capture pipelines. It requires that any company planning on constructing a hazardous liquid pipeline must submit a list of structures that could be impacted by an accidental leak.

Sherri Webb, who owns land in Shelby County that sits in the path of Summit’s pipeline, said that she doesn’t think the community has enough local support to deal with a possible carbon dioxide leak.

“None of these EMTs or volunteer firemen have the equipment that they would need to do that,” she said.

Webb pointed to an incident in Satartia, Mississippi as evidence of this. In 2020, the carbon capture pipeline constructed there ruptured and caused 45 people to seek medical attention. No one died as a result of the leak.

An investigation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) determined that local emergency responders did not understand “the nature of the unique safety risks of the CO2 pipeline.” Liquified carbon is an asphyxiant, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

County public health director Lori Hoch said the proposed setbacks are an effort to make residents safer in the event of a rupture.

“It buys you time, if you have a setback, so that you can help folks in an emergency situation,” she said.

The ordinance would also require companies like Summit to provide training to local emergency responders on how to deal with a liquified carbon leak.

If passed, the company could still apply to the county board of adjustment for a conditional permit.

The county will host three public hearings in the coming weeks before adopting the ordinance.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 4:58pm on Oct. 6 to include comments from Summit Carbon Solutions.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.