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What’s at stake in carbon pipeline argumentWhat’s at stake in carbon pipeline argument

Across the rural Midwest, some landowners are saying no to pipelines, solar farms, turbines and more — but they’re really saying no to eminent domain.

Holly Spangler

September 20, 2023

5 Min Read
A small plane flying across a blue sky pulling a banner that reads: No Dangerous Co2 Pipelines!
FLYING HIGH: The Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines flew this banner above the Farm Progress Show — prompting one friend to nudge my arm, laugh and ask, “How much CO2 you think is being emitted to fly that all day?” Betty Haynes

If you happened to look up at the sky during the 2023 Farm Progress Show, you might have seen a lone plane, circling the airspace, pulling a banner with a message: “No dangerous CO2 pipelines!”

I noticed because it’s hard to miss a plane overhead, but also because a billboard in our town carries the same message, just before the blacktop where I turn to head home. All the way home, yard signs stand at the edge of fields, all saying absolutely no thank you to a proposed carbon pipeline.

Back at the Farm Progress Show, the same group that flew the banner — the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines — also had a booth, where they asked people to fill out cards asking the Illinois Farm Bureau to oppose eminent domain for a private project. Many did.

The pipeline at hand is proposed by Navigator CO2 Ventures: a 1,300-mile, $3.2 billion proposed carbon pipeline that would move 15 million metric tons of CO2 a year from nearly three dozen fertilizer and ethanol plants in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The CO2 would go to an underground sandstone formation in central Illinois known as the Mount Simon Sandstone, where carbon can be sequestered. Navigator says the proposed pipeline would be a 20-inch pipeline buried 5 feet underground.

On the farm

Full disclosure, it would come right through my neighborhood — in fact, right across the first farm my husband and I bought together in 2004, when I was fully pregnant and thought I’d need a sick day to recover from the stress of bidding what felt like an astronomical price of $4,250 an acre. (Precious, no?)

It’s a farm we’ve wanted to tile but never got around to. We could with what Navigator is offering us, if we agree to let the pipeline go through. We could potentially negotiate for Navigator to lay mains on either side of the pipeline; then we could tie into them when we install drainage tile.

It’s virtually a best-case scenario. We are lucky, but not everyone would be so lucky. Our neighbor has the worst-case scenario. He has a beautiful 160-acre field that he pattern-tiled a couple of years ago. The pipeline would cut across it, corner to corner.

He hates it, and I don’t blame him. I hate it for him.

Projects like this affect everyone differently. Navigator is offering a lot of money to the counties the pipeline would cross. No one really knows if it’s worth it. But our county highway engineer has done the math, and it’s enough to tar and chip every county road that’s currently gravel, which is a lot.

But safety? Folks in opposition point to a CO2 pipeline that exploded in Satartia, Miss., in early 2020. Federal investigators determined that the pipeline operator, Denbury Inc., violated several regulations. Obviously, the chance of an explosion like that is lower than your chance of wrecking your car on the highway today — but it’s not zero.

Navigator argues this is for the common good, and pro-ethanol folks agree. Sequestering carbon via pipeline will help ethanol plants dramatically lower their carbon footprint, which would mean higher biofuel sales in California and beyond. That could translate into better prices for Midwest corn.

Despite its 13 letters, eminent domain is the four-letter word here, even among pro-ethanol farmers. And in Illinois, if the Illinois Commerce Commission approves Navigator’s permit, the company receives eminent domain authority.

None of us wants to be the last guy negotiating on the courthouse steps.

Who’s got leverage?

Earlier this year, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill removing county authority over siting of wind and solar projects, creating a commission to oversee wind turbines everywhere but in Chicago, and allowing possible turbine siting within one-tenth of a mile from rural homes.

In response, Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, filed a bill — literally called the If This Is Such A Good Idea, Let’s Start With You Act — that would convert Chicago’s Millenium Park into a solar field and put wind turbines in every Chicago city park.

Political sarcasm at its finest.

But also, a reflection that rural Illinois is tired of being the political lightweight. We’re tired of government that pushes the work of green energy on the backs of its rural citizens, if only because we’re outnumbered (and outvoted). Yes, we’d get paid. Yes, that’s good. But the sheer contentiousness that’s arisen between country neighbors over the past 15 years because of wind turbines — and now pipelines? It’s hard to argue that it’s worth it.

Good alternatives

In the big picture, that carbon pipeline is a byproduct of an overarching effort to get the world off of fossil fuels and to slow greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG issue has brought new pressure to adopt alternative energy options, which we can’t dismiss out of hand. Rod Weinzierl, IL Corn, is right when he says the trajectory of the conversation around greenhouse gases will only increase.

In the past five years, I’ve been on enough farms with solar panels that power livestock barns and grain systems to know that farmers support solar power. We’re thoughtful people, and we have to thoughtfully consider how alternative energy can help us all.

We’re also thoughtful people who know projects like a carbon pipeline will affect people completely differently. I get why people are angry. But there’s no way to have it all. There never is.

If we’re going to do something for a common good, some people will win. Some will not. Do we call for better regulations? Better safety measures? Do we stop progress? It’s an honest question, and I’d love to hear what you think. But it’s often hard to have these rational discussions when outrage fills the countryside.

Because before you know it, there’s a banner in the air and a billboard in town. And we need to give the people it affects most a bigger voice in the process.

Comments? Email [email protected].

Read more about:

CarbonLand Management

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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