LaDuke: CO2 pipelines are another bad idea

"The easiest way to stop the carbon buildup is to quit burning fossil fuels, move to efficiency, green building and renewables. ... Instead of the common sense approach, there’s an even more crazy idea now, an awfully expensive set of experimental technologies .."

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke

We humans are making too much carbon. Yup it’s us. The percentage of carbon in the air is at about 400 parts per million; carbon is what causes catastrophic storms, facilitates the movement of crazy insects, and basically lets all hell break loose.

And there’s more crazy to come.

The easiest way to stop the carbon buildup is to quit burning fossil fuels, move to efficiency, green building and renewables. That’s the actual solution. Then take something that needs carbon — such as plants — and let them rock nature. Forests love carbon, but you have to keep them, not cut them. And then there’s hemp! That stuff can suck up carbon like nobody’s business, eight times faster than trees. It’s sort of a miracle plant.

Instead of the common sense approach, there’s an even more crazy idea now, an awfully expensive set of experimental technologies: sequestering collected carbon emissions by converting them to a combination liquid and gas (CO2) and putting it in a pipeline to transport it in a potentially high explosive state. Then put this stuff back underground, in what’s called carbon capture and storage.

Scenario 1: You build some more dangerous pipelines, make a big legal battle with farmers, ranchers and Native people, arrest us, and explain why we should bear the risk for the latest bad idea and some more fat cat profits.


The Midwest Carbon Express, owned by Ames, Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, and The Heartland Greenway, set up by Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures, want to run their proposed CO2 lines through the Northern Plains, and Minnesota in what would become part of a much larger network of CO2 pipelines. They would, according to the project proponents, connect ethanol refineries and other vaguely mentioned “industrial sources” in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

While the pipelines push ahead in the Dakotas, the companies hit a bump in their road to profits in Minnesota with state regulators. The Carbon Express would run through 150 miles of Minnesota, connecting to seven ethanol plants. The Heartland project would link 12 miles into Minnesota to connect an ethanol plant near Fairmont. North Dakota and South Dakota would take the brunt of the pipelines, as they are heading to the Bakken, where the carbon pipeline will be used to get more oil out of the ground and make more carbon. Crazy.

Why should we be concerned? Well, it’s a big expensive experiment with us all, and our planet. CO2 pipes can explode – they already have – and it’s full of bad math and made-up ideas. That’s why it’s a good thing that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decided to take a look, despite industry trying to skirt regulation. The PUC recently voted unanimously to regulate carbon dioxide pipelines as hazardous, which will require the Midwest Carbon Express and The Heartland Greenway to get PUC approval. That rule-making process could take years. Not a good thing for investors in these two multi-Billion-dollar projects.

Of course, pipeline companies always fight such regulation, it’s their general M.O. We saw that with Line 3 and we’re seeing it again, another case where the pipeline industry puts investor profits above public safety and just common sense. While there is much more to this complicated story, keep these key issues top of mind, as the Bold Alliance attorney Paul Blackburn and colleagues note at the Pipeline Fighters Hub blog .

One, the “free oil market” is incentivized by “45Q tax credit. That’s our public money. As Blackburn explains, this “gives polluters who emit carbon dioxide a tax credit if they capture carbon dioxide from their smokestacks, turn it into a fluid, transport it in a pipeline to a well, and then pump it underground.” But something has to power that pipeline — and that means burning more fossil fuels and using more energy to get rid of this latest bad idea. And that means more carbon dioxide (Enbridge is already the largest energy consumer in Minnesota).

Second, companies are using this CO2 process to get out more oil, and that means yet more carbon. It’s called enhanced oil recovery, which “can squeeze very large amounts of oil out of old oilfields and be turned into fuels such as gasoline and diesel and then sold and burned, thereby releasing more CO2 pollution — just the opposite of what the 45Q tax credit is supposed to accomplish, “ Blackburn explains. Hypocritical and really bad math.

An Alternate Scenario: Just grow hemp. Plants love carbon, and instead of spending another $100 billion on crazy techno fixes, common sense would say protect forests and biodiversity because that’s where the “carbon sinks” are. And grow plants: The U.S. has 300 million acres of cropland. Regenerative farming has the potential to 100% offset U.S. C02 emissions and rebuild topsoil. It’s time to grow a new green hemp economy. Go organic. and quit doing dumb, expensive and heartbreaking stuff to make a buck. Let’s just have the New Green Revolution, put the carbon back in the soil, and grow our future.

Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.

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