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Wolf meets with landowners, begins road to permitting carbon pipeline

Wolf Carbon Solutions' Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Nick Noppinger pitches the company's 280-mile carbon dioxide capture pipeline to one hundred landowners at the Clinton County Fairgrounds on December 5, 2022.
Zachary Oren Smith
Wolf Carbon Solutions' Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Nick Noppinger pitches the company's 280-mile carbon dioxide capture pipeline to 100 landowners at the Clinton County Fairgrounds Monday.

Wolf Carbon Solution’s 280-mile carbon capture pipeline will pipe liquid carbon dioxide from Cedar Rapids to Decatur, Illinois. But Wolf has to first get landowners to let pipe snake through their property.

Representatives of Wolf Carbon Solutions are getting an earful from residents of eastern Iowa about the company’s proposed carbon dioxide capture pipeline project.

Wolf develops and operates pipelines in the U.S. and Canada. It is owned by CPP Investments, a pension fund. It has experience through affiliate, Wolf Midstream, which operates a 150-mile carbon dioxide capture system

At this point, Wolf has proposed a two-mile-wide corridor for its pipeline. Within that width, it needs to secure 75 feet of temporary right-of-way for construction of the pipe. After construction, Wolf will maintain 50 feet of permanent right-of-way for the pipeline. Wolf’s corridor map depicts the territory it has in mind for the project. It shows which landowners Wolf will attempt to negotiate with for right-of-way.

The map skips around Johnson County, snaking through Linn, Cedar, Clinton and Scott counties on its way to deposit carbon dioxide into a sandstone deposit for storage at a facility in Decatur, Illinois. The project’s Iowa length is approximately 90 miles, with the rest in Illinois.

The company anticipates spending 2023 negotiating with landowners for right-of-way, hoping to start construction in 2024 and be operational come 2025.

Residents of Cedar County lined up for four hours Monday afternoon to question representatives of a Wolf about the project. The meetings – conducted by the Iowa Utilities Board – were called after the company acknowledged "some anomalies" surrounding how it notified residents about previous meetings in August.

There were two primary issues for residents: the project’s safety and the use of eminent domain. Many pointed to a 2020 carbon pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi that burst, hospitalizing 49 people and forcing the evacuation of 300 more. For hours, residents – including Cedar County Emergency Management Agency Director Jodi Freet – grilled the Wolf representatives about whether Wolf was adequately planning to keep residents safe in the event of a rupture.

To this, Wolf’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Nick Noppinger emphasized the company’s track record with these pipelines and the high regulatory standards they must meet.

“We have already built a carbon capture pipeline system up north and we have a strong track record of safely operating that in addition to the thousands of miles of other pipelines we’ve developed over the decades,” Noppinger said.

A sticking point for several residents was Wolf Carbon Solution’s recent action to avoid showing the Utilities Board its emergency response plan, risk assessment and modeling for burst pipe disasters. On Nov. 30, Wolf joined Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Heartland Greenway — the state’s two other major carbon dioxide pipeline projects — which similarly asked these safety reports not be required as a condition of the permit.

Wolf’s stance is that the safety standards for interstate pipelines is a federal matter, not to be regulated by state boards like the Iowa Utilities Board. But residents say Wolf is avoiding being transparent about how safe the project is and its plans for a burst pipe. This requirement is currently under review.

The other major concern for residents was whether Wolf would use eminent domain to secure a way through the state if negotiations failed. Tracey McDaneld, the director of Government Relations & Land at Wolf, said they do not plan to use eminent domain to secure land for the project. She emphasized that the company didn’t use eminent domain in its previous carbon dioxide capture pipeline project.

Geri Huser, the chair of the Iowa Utilities Board, said as Wolf pursues a permit, a landowner's greatest power is in what they demand for their property.

“You have the right to negotiate. You have a right to have whomever you want with you to talk with them or their land agent on what you want, even if it is ‘I don’t want it at all.’ That’s your choice and that’s what we are trying to educate you on is what you can do,” she said.

The next step for Wolf is to petition the Iowa Utilities Board to permit the project. That can happen 30 days after Tuesday’s final informational meeting. At that point, Wolf will begin trying to bring landowners to the negotiation table.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa