Staff recommends state reject Wolf Carbon Solutions CO2 pipeline proposal

State will make final decision in May 2024
Published: Oct. 31, 2023 at 9:45 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - Staffers responsible for looking over Wolf Carbon Solution’s proposed plan for a CO2 pipeline are telling the state they should reject the proposal, citing several issues.

In dozens of pages of testimony to the Illinois Commerce Commission, Engineer Brett Seagle with ICC recommended the state deny the certificate of authority needed by WCS to construct and operate the pipeline.

“There are certain forms, permits, or permissions that, for various reasons, [WCS] has not obtained prior to the filing of my direct testimony,” Seagle said in the filing.

He later goes on to say this does not immediately disqualify WCS from receiving the necessary permit. The ICC must make a final decision by May 2024.

WCS hopes to build a 259.9 mile pipeline stretching from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to the Mt Simon Hub in Decatur, where it will be pumped deep underground. the project is estimated to cost $1 billion and will be privately funded by WCS.

Federal tax credits offer $85 per metric ton of CO2 sequestered underground.

“The power brokers in Peoria and around the state are looking at everything that is being said about the issue and siding with the residents,” Peoria resident and pipeline opposed Daurice Coaster said in reaction. She plans to continue her work challenging the project.

In a statement, WCS Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Nick Noppinger said the company would review and address the concerns laid out in this testimony. The group plans to have the pipeline up and running by 2025.

“We are disappointed by the ICC staff’s recommendation, but the regulatory process is designed to ensure that the commission makes an informed, balanced decision,” Noppinger said.

“Our response will demonstrate that we have worked collaboratively with ADM for more than two years and we remain confident we will finalize a formal agreement, that CO2 pipelines have been safely operating and regulated by [US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] for decades, and that our open and collaborative approach to landowner engagement – which we are confident the ICC will agree is the right approach – sets us apart from other developers,” he continued.

Many of the details on the proposed project can be found in a Digging Deeper special report from July. Some details are out of date. The latest information can be found on the Illinois Commerce Commission’s website.

‘Overwhelmingly negative feedback’

Seagle also addressed the “overwhelmingly negative feedback” from the public on this project, noting they mostly revolve around safety concerns.

“The group is happy but cautiously optimistic,” Elton Rocke, spokesperson for the Tazewell County: Stop the CO2 Pipeline said of the testimony.

“I think everybody realizes the safety aspects of this is just terrible... It’s going to be a nightmare for the farmers and they don’t put every bit into the easement of their projects... if they don’t get a good lawyer. they’re going to suffer down the road.”

Residents hold up signs protesting a potential CO2 pipeline at the Tazewell County Board...
Residents hold up signs protesting a potential CO2 pipeline at the Tazewell County Board meeting on Sept. 27, 2023.(WEEK)

Rocke and the Tazewell County group are concerned about the use of eminent domain to access the property to build the pipeline. In multiple discussions with the public, WCS has said they do not plan to use eminent domain to gain access to the land.

However, Seagle seemed skeptical that the public would be willing to negotiate with the company, citing the unpopularity reflected in the public comments.

“Using eminent domain to obtain an overwhelming majority of the land for a project demonstrates that it is not in the public interest or public benefit,” Seagle testified.

It does not seem like WCS has started the negotiation process with landowners.

A quote from Brett Seagle's testimony to the ICC on the proposed Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline.
A quote from Brett Seagle's testimony to the ICC on the proposed Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline.(WEEK)

Pending federal regulations

WCS asserts their team has years of experience in operating pipelines. They currently operate the Alberta Carbon Trunkline as well.

While Seagle does agree the team has adequate knowledge and experience, he expressed concern that the current plans do not adequately address safety concerns and pending federal regulations.

PHMSA, the federal agency that regulates pipelines, has promised to put out new guidelines for CO2 pipelines following the Satartia, Mississippi, rupture that sent dozens to the hospital.

A quote from Brett Seagle's testimony to the ICC on the Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline.
A quote from Brett Seagle's testimony to the ICC on the Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline.(WEEK)

“The entire [Mt Simon hub] pipeline could become non-compliant with federal standards during or after the construction of this pipeline,” Seagle testified.

WCS plans to provide emergency response plans to the county and municipal emergency departments that might have to respond to a catastrophic rupture or other incident. However, they have not yet provided those plans to the public or those first responders. Seagle cited that as another reason to deny the application.

Who will use the pipeline and where will the CO2 go?

Illinois’ Carbon Dioxide Transportation and Sequestration Act lays out specific requirements for what companies must do to get approval for a pipeline in the state, including having pipeline customers and a sequestration site lined up before the plan can be approved.

Right now, WCS does not have a signed agreement with Archer-Daniels-Midland, the company that runs the CO2 sequestration site at the Mt Simon Hub in Decatur. WCS said they are in an “advanced” stage of negotiation with the company. Without the agreement set in stone Seagle testified he was worried the negotiations would fall apart and then there would be no place to deposit the collected CO2.

Additionally, there are few to no customers currently signed up to use the pipeline to transport CO2 underground.

Noppinger said in his testimony to the state that the company is negotiating with “several” industrial producers through Iowa and Illinois to capture, transport, and store 3 million metric tons of CO2.

The lack of customers indicates to Seagle that there isn’t a clear demand for such a service. He also said the Illinois Co2 act was created to help Illinois coal manufacturers reduce CO2. This pipeline is aimed at ethanol production plants.

“[WCS] cannot demonstrate why the pipeline construction is in the public interest or if there is a public benefit without any agreements to ship the product using the pipeline as discussed further below,” the testimony reads.

What happens next

Again, Seagle does not have the final say on the project. WCS and other agencies are submitting testimony to the ICC. A final decision is expected in May 2024.

Seagle did recommend if the commission wants to grant the pipeline permit, they should require WCS to get all the permits needed before starting construction.