Navigator CO2 cancels plans for multi-state carbon-dioxide pipeline

Citing “the unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes involved,” Navigator CO2 said Oct. 20 that the company will cancel its $3.4 billion, multi-state carbon-dioxide pipeline project.

The Heartland Greenway project, which was supported by the Midwest ethanol industry and labor unions but opposed by environmental and landowner groups, would have transported liquified CO2 from five states, crossed Sangamon County and stored the pressurized CO2 more than a mile underground in parts of rural Christian and Montgomery counties. The project would have been the largest of its type in the world.

Only 10 days earlier, on Oct. 10, privately held Navigator asked the Illinois Commerce Commission to withdraw its application for the construction of more than 290 miles of the pipeline through 14 counties in Illinois. Navigator asked for the option to resubmit the application later because the company wanted to “reassess the route and other aspects of the Heartland Greenway Pipeline System and the application.”

The ICC hadn’t ruled on that request at the time of the company’s Oct. 20 announcement. The ICC had been on track to conduct a public hearing on the proposal in October and make a final decision early in 2024, though a key ICC staff member had recommended the project be turned down.

Kathleen Campbell, a Glenarm resident and vice president of Citizens Against the Heartland Greenway Pipeline, told Illinois Times that opponents of the project were “delighted at this outcome.”

click to enlarge Navigator CO2 cancels plans for multi-state carbon-dioxide pipeline
Kathleen Campbell, a retired research scientist and opponent of the proposed Navigator Heartland Greenway CO2 pipeline project, in the backyard of her Glenarm home, which would have been less than 100 yards from the corridor designated for the privately owned, multi-state pipeline.
Campbell said she wasn’t surprised Navigator decided to abandon the project amid evidence that the pipeline would have posed unreasonable risks of injuring or asphyxiating people within minutes if they lived or otherwise happened to be within 1,000 feet of the pipeline in the case of a rupture.

“I didn’t see a path forward with this level of resistance for a newly formed company that had never done a CO2 pipeline before,” Campbell said.

Nebraska-based Navigator, in a statement posted on its website, didn’t specifically mention public opposition in Illinois to the project. But company officials said development of the proposed 1,350-mile pipeline has been “challenging,” particularly in South Dakota and Iowa.

The pipeline was promoted as a way of reducing the amount of climate-change-causing CO2 from ethanol and fertilizer producers from being released into the atmosphere.

Opponents, however, said the pipeline would create public safety risks and destroy valuable farmland.

They also pointed to disagreement in the scientific community about the safety and effectiveness of underground storage of CO2, a process known as sequestration. Opponents said sequestration diverts attention from green-energy alternatives such as wind and solar power.  

Navigator temporarily withdrew the regulatory application for its route through Iowa recently, and its application was turned down by South Dakota regulators in September.

The pipeline would have transported liquified carbon dioxide from 21 industrial sites in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.

Matt Vining, chief executive officer of Navigator CO2, said in the website statement: “As good stewards of capital and responsible managers of people, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the Heartland Greenway project. We are disappointed that we will not be able to provide services to our customers and thank them for their continued support.”

Vining added: “I am proud that throughout this endeavor, our team maintained a collaborative, high-integrity and safety-first approach, and we thank them for their tireless efforts. We also thank all the individuals, trade associations, labor organizations, landowners and elected officials who supported us and carbon capture in the Midwest.”

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, a Navigator vice president, said in an email to Illinois Times: “The ultimate decision was largely a function of a lack of certainty in a viable pathway forward in state permitting processes across the board, not in any one state specifically.

“To date, Navigator has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on project development work and payments to landowners across the proposed footprint,” Burns-Thompson said. “We do not have plans for any new CO2 projects within the project footprint.”

Pam Richart, the Champaign-based co-founder of the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines, said in a statement that Navigator’s decision highlights the company’s “failure to adequately address the widespread concerns from farmers, landowners, environmental advocates and elected officials from both sides of the aisle regarding basic protections for communities, land and water resources.”

Campbell said CO2 pipeline opponents now will focus their attention on trying to derail the proposed Wolf Carbon Solutions pipeline, which would bring liquified carbon dioxide from ethanol and fertilizer plants in Iowa and Illinois to a sequestration site in Macon County near Decatur.

Illinois counties that the Wolf pipeline would pass through include Macon, DeWitt, Logan, Tazewell and Peoria, Stark and Henry.

Campbell said the Wolf pipeline request contains flaws that are “very similar” to the Navigator proposal.

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