BROOKINGS — “We’re still very much on track, moving ahead,” said
Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Navigator CO2 vice president of Government and Public Affairs, in a recent interview with The Brookings Register. The proposed Heartland Greenway project, under the purview of Navigator CO2, would, if approved by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, bring 111.9 miles of carbon dioxide transmission pipeline buried under five counties: Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner.
Website www.heartlandgreenway.com shows the following dates remaining on its “Anticipated (Expected) Project Timeline: Third Quarter, 2023, “Anticipated receipt of state and federal permits”; First Half, 2024, “Construction commences”; and Fourth Quarter 2024 – Second Quarter, 2025, “Phased startup and commissioning.”
The above timeline is not set in stone: the key word is “anticipated,” with everything riding on “state and federal permits.” By Sept. 27, the PUC will decide: go, no-go, or modify.
As the clock ticks and the days pass, Navigator faces its two major concerns for those opposed to the project: “eminent domain” and “safety concerns.” And Burns-Thompson addressed both, with eminent domain first.
“ We understand firsthand that there is sometimes an intangible valuation to land, especially that land that has the benefit of being in a family for multiple generations,” she said. “That is a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. That’s a thing that we appreciate.”
She called it “very unfortunate that those who are out to oppose the project have mischaracterized eminent domain extremely so. At its foundation, eminent domain does not save us time, it does not save us money. … It takes litigation and lawyers are expensive and they take time. And it does not make us any friends.”
“Whether or not you are a pipeline developer or own the corner coffee shop or are in any business, you want to optimize your resources, both financially and time-wise,” the vice president continued. “… At the very core, as a functionality of eminent domain, we are incentivized, just as a sheer business practice, to do as much of this in a voluntary process as is possible. … It (eminent domain) is absolutely a tool of last resort.”
Safety very close to project
Burns-Thompson called safety concerns “understandable,” adding, “We spend a lot of time going through safety. It is something very close to our project.” She explained that safety “is not as easy as one particular variable. It’s not only one particular aspect of the project. You will note that we break down safety into a couple of different categories. … ”
They include: what Navigator “can do upfront from a design and an engineering perspective to enhance factors of safety. As we move into operations all of the different components in the parameters that we had to design ensure that we not only construct it safely but that we operate it safely.”
She next addressed the concern that some people have about proximity to the pipeline: “How far away do you have to be from it to be safe? To me that oversimplifies safety.” To be considered are: “ … the setback distance or the distance from (the pipeline) is a numerical value that changes depending on a number of different characteristics of the project, the pipe, how much product, the pressure, all those type of things and the landscape that you’re around.”
To make a point, she used the analogy of speed limits when driving an automobile: “It’s safe to drive 75 (mph) on certain roads; but in certain areas the speed limit is 25. But just driving the speed limit doesn’t inherently of itself make you safe. You should also wear your seatbelt and make sure that your car is properly maintained. Those are other factors of safety that ensure the operation of that vehicle is safe.”
Shifting to pipelines, Burns-Thompson explained the role of “mainline valves.” Strategically located, they are monitored 24/7/365 “and can pinpoint abnormalities” on the line, using “very specific X-Y coordinates and crews can respond in a very efficient manner.”
She also noted that “burying the pipe deeper” also enhanced safety; and she reiterated the “upfront design” that enhanced safety factors. The project’s “Design and Safety Philosophy” is fully explained on the Heartland Greenway website.
Some positive feedback from ag industry
“We did do a bulk of different surveys, so there’s not just one round of surverys,” Burns-Thompson explained. She said there are several rounds of surveys applicable to the project; however, she noted that “not all surveys have to take place on all properties.”
The types of “pedestrian surveys” she cited include: constructability, which “take the physical lay of the land,” such as elevation, property boundaries, utilities , structures and fence lines; environment and biological, “looking for critical water resources, endangered species and things like that … and critical to our permit”; and cultural, “that engage the community” and “document historic and prehistoric artifacts.”
In addition to the pedestrian surveys cited by Burns-Thompson, the Heartland Greenway website explains “geotechnical surveys” that include: “2- to 4-inch probes 20- to 200-feet deep; truck or track boring rig to evaluate geology for bore/HDDs (horizontal directional drillings); and backfill holes with spoil and bentonite.”
While there are landowners and other members of the agricultural community in South Dakota voicing opposition to the project, some farmers and land owners appreciate what it can do for the ethanol industry.
“We are getting feedback from farmers all across the project (area) who are recognizing that infrastructure is a critical piece of the development of industries that are of critical importance to their operations,” the vice president noted. “Not only do we know that ethanol is incredibly important, that nearly half of the corn crop goes into some type of ethanol production. But they’re not just ethanol plants; we call them ethanol plants because that’s what they were built to do.
“These plants today look very different than when they were initially built. … They have developed additional marketplaces and thus the supply chain to meet the demand in those marketplaces for things like dry distillers grain and corn oil.
“It’s kind of an additional step: we’ll be taking what had been a byproduct and turning it into a valuable co-product.”
On the issue of climate change, Burns-Thompson said, “Wherever you stand on climate change, we thought this project makes sense. Carbon dioxide technology in integration with ethanol is very firmly on both an environmental right as well as an economic right. These are necessarily so. …
“You can’t reach your sustainability goals from an environmental perspective if you aren’t also economically sustainable. … The drivers of this project include both the environmental perspective and the economic perspective.”
Looking long range into the future, she noted that “we live in an era where carbon dioxide is becoming a quantifier of value. Consumers are looking to net-zero (carbon dioxide); and our profits are covered by pledges that we will meet net-zero.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]