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Dickinson County leaders unanimously approve pipeline ordinance


Dickinson County leaders unanimously approve pipeline ordinance

Apr 16, 2024 | 4:37 pm ET
By Jared Strong
Dickinson County leaders unanimously approve pipeline ordinance
Summit Carbon Solutions wants to build a carbon dioxide pipeline network to connect to at least 30 Iowa ethanol producers. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Supervisors of Dickinson County voted unanimously Tuesday to implement new restrictions on the placement of carbon dioxide pipelines to create larger buffers between them and people and animals.

“We’ve tried to balance both sides,” said Bill Leupold, chairperson of the county’s five-member board of supervisors. “I think this ordinance does it.”

By approving the ordinance — and waiving two other votes to make it effective immediately — the county faces the threat of litigation from Summit Carbon Solutions, a company that is on the cusp of potentially receiving approval for its project from Iowa regulators.

Summit seeks to build a five-state pipeline system to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground storage. It has sued five other Iowa counties that have enacted similar ordinances.

Dickinson’s ordinance includes less-restrictive separation distances, which county leaders have hoped will preclude them from litigation.

Dickinson County leaders unanimously approve pipeline ordinance
Summit’s pipeline system would pass through the east side of Dickinson County. (Iowa Utilities Board filing)

Notably, they reduced the distance from cities from two miles to 1,600 feet, or by about 85%. There is a similar setback requirement for homes. The ordinance also requires the pipelines to be at least a half mile from schools, nursing homes, medical facilities and public parks, and 1,000 feet from livestock operations.

However, the reduced distances still have the potential to affect Summit’s planned route through the county that is currently being weighed by the Iowa Utilities Board.

A federal judge issued permanent injunctions in December to bar Shelby and Story counties from enforcing their pipeline ordinances. The ruling said the IUB has authority over pipeline routes and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration governs their safety.

“The courts see setbacks as safety standards, which fall under the exclusive authority of the federal agencies, not local ordinances,” Scott O’Konek, a Summit project manager, told the Dickinson supervisors before their vote.

O’Konek said despite the adjustments to the Dickinson ordinance, it is still very similar to those adopted by Shelby and Story. Appeals of the injunctions for those ordinances are pending.

A Summit spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to comment about the Dickinson ordinance.

The county ordinances stem largely from residents’ concerns about pipeline safety. A catastrophic pipeline breach can create a plume of carbon dioxide that hugs the ground and can travel long distances, potentially asphyxiating people and animals.

“The board of supervisors is duty bound to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Dickinson County,” Bonnie Ewoldt, of Milford, said during the supervisors’ meeting. “So I urge you to pass this ordinance in spite of Summit’s stated intent to sue the county. This is simply evidence of the way Summit bullies its way through.”

Ewoldt was among a handful of residents who spoke in favor of the ordinance, and none spoke against it. Vicki Beck, of Spirit Lake, said she lives near enough to Summit’s proposed route to be potentially affected by a pipeline break but not sufficiently close to take part in its permit proceedings as an affected landowner.

“As far as Summit is concerned, I have no say,” Beck said. “But I live less than 1,600 feet from their pipeline. So, I should have a say, and this (ordinance) is doing that.”

Summit has repeatedly said its carbon dioxide pipeline system will be the safest that has been constructed to date. In recent months, it has made new agreements to more than double the number of ethanol producers — for a total of 30 — that might connect to the system in Iowa.

“Safety of the landowners, communities and our workers is ingrained in our corporate values and reflected in all we do,” O’Konek said. “Protecting local communities and the landscape is our top priority.”

Summit’s project is expected to cost more than $8 billion. The company and ethanol producers would benefit from generous federal tax credits that reward companies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ethanol plants would further be able to sell their fuels in low-carbon markets.