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Shelby County establishes 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
Shelby County passed an ordinance limiting where carbon capture pipelines could be built within the county.

A southwestern Iowa county voted to establish setbacks for hazardous liquid pipelines on Tuesday.

At a public hearing in Harlan, residents and landowners voiced their concerns of Summit Carbon Solution’s proposal to construct a carbon capture pipeline throughout the state. The county adopted a new pipeline zoning ordinance, in hopes it can regulate where the project can be built within the community.

County supervisor Steve Kenkel said residents are worried about the safety of the project and how it could impact economic development. That led to a unanimous decision by the board of supervisors to regulate how close the hazardous liquid pipeline could be to homes and community buildings.

“If you want to build a house or you want to build a shed or you want to put in a utility line, you have to get a permit and you have to follow zoning ordinances,” Kenkel said. “I don't know why hazardous pipelines would be any different.”

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.

Summit Carbon Solutions’ 2,000-mile-long proposed pipeline would span across the state and pass through the city limits of the town of Early in Shelby County. The goal is to capture carbon from the air, liquefy it and then pipe it to be stored underground – limiting ethanol plants’ emissions.

Under the ordinance, the company is required to apply for a conditional permit in order to sign easements with landowners in the county for its project.

But, Summit’s director of public affairs Jesse Harris said the ordinance is inconsistent withIowa code– which gives the Iowa Utilities Board the power to approve hazardous liquid pipeline routes. He said the company does not have to comply with local regulations.

"This places more responsibility and burden on an already very limited valuable resource in our community: our volunteers."
Jennifer Lefeber, Shelby County resident

“To have each county have their own set of requirements would mean that the 47,000 miles of pipelines that are in active service across the state, those projects just would not be possible anymore,” Harris said. “And I think you'd see a significant impact to our economy.”

Around 900 Iowa landowners have signed easements with the company – totalling around 56 percent of the pipeline’s route, according to company officials.

Still, other counties across the state are considering similar ordinances. Kenkel said nearly 30 counties have reached out to him for help in building their own regulations.

What’s in the ordinance?

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

It also dictates 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.

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

A crowd of people stand in a room facing a podium and a table with county supervisors. Very few people remain sitting.
Kendall Crawford
At the final reading of the ordinance, community members were asked to stand if they supported the measure. Most everyone in the room stood.

Jennifer Lefeber works as an emergency department manager at Harlan’s local hospital. She said she doesn't believe local emergency responders have the resources to mitigate a potential rupture.

“This places more responsibility and burden on an already very limited valuable resource in our community: our volunteers,” she said at Tuesday’s public hearing.

Harlan’s fire chief, the county public health director and Harlan schools’ superintendent all issued their support of the ordinance.

Harris, from Summit, said emergency responders will be trained, upon the approval of the project. He said Shelby County could also allocate the $900,000 in property taxes that Summit estimates it will bring in toward public safety resources.

“If there's a gap in resources for local emergency responders, we're happy to work with them to make sure that those needs are being fulfilled,” Harris said.

For landowner Mary Powell, that isn’t consolation. She’s part of a movement of landowners in the pipeline’s path that are urging resistance against the project. She said the new ordinance is a step in the right direction in that fight.

“The rest is up to the landowners to not sign for the easements for this property,” she said.

The ordinance goes into effect on Nov. 11.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.