Summit avoids going back to square one with pipeline permit application in North Dakota

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2023

North Dakota regulators decided Friday to reconsider Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposal to build the $5.5 billion carbon capture pipeline through the state, instead of forcing the Ames company to reapply for a permit.

Iowa opponents have argued that Summit’s petition for a hazardous liquid pipeline in the state should be paused until it receives approval in North Dakota, which is where the Ames company plans to sequester 15 million tons of liquid carbon dioxide annually.

Summit proposes to capture carbon dioxide from about 30 ethanol plants in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, liquefy it under pressure and transport it via 2,000 miles of pipeline before sequestering it deep underground in North Dakota.

North Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Sheri Haugen-Hoffart argued in favor of having Summit file a new application because of the “breadth of the changes” needed to be made in response to deficiencies the panel outlined last month in unanimously denying the company’s permit request.

Haugen-Hoffart said Summit executives had six months to address landowner and community concerns about the route location “and they didn’t.”

Now, Summit proposes 570 changes to the route, plus a large shift around Bismarck, the state’s capital, she said. Summit “should pause and look at all the deficiencies that were in this initial application,” Haugen-Hoffart said. “These issues are huge.”

Commission Chairman Randy Christmann and Timothy Dawson, a substitute commissioner, voted to allow Summit to tackle problems with its application instead of restarting with a new application.

Christmann said the commission is charged with making a “just, speedy and inexpensive determination.” And requiring both supporters and opponents to repeat earlier testimony violates that directive, Christmann said.

With a new permit application, “all that earlier testimony is wiped out, and that concerns me,” he said, adding that some participants may not testify in a new hearing, believing the information wouldn’t need to be restated.

“That person would think that we’re smart enough to remember it, and we probably are, but we can’t use it anymore,” Christmann said.

The commission’s decision to reconsider Summit’s application doesn’t mean the panel will “grant the corridor certificate or the route permit,” Christmann said. “It only allows additional evidence for the company to try to persuade us that they are addressing the deficiencies.”

Christmann said the panel would set a hearing schedule and “clarify the issues to be considered.”

In August, the commission said Summit had failed to meet “its burden of proof” to show the pipeline’s location, construction and operation would have minimal adverse impact on the state’s environment and residents.

Among the concerns: Some political leaders opposed the project’s route around Bismarck, saying the pipeline route would constrain future residential growth and raise safety concerns. In response, Summit has proposed to reroute the pipeline 10 miles north of Bismarck and away from areas slated for development.

Summit CEO Lee Blank said Friday the company has “listened to and learned from the concerns raised” by the commission.

“Subsequently, we rerouted around Bismarck, made adjustments to drill or bypass game management and geo-hazard areas, and collaborated with the State Historic Preservation Office to record the findings of cultural surveys,” Blank said in a statement.

Summit said it has easement agreements with 76% of landowners along the route in North Dakota.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457.