Bills target CO2 pipelines in North Dakota; energy industry worries about impacts to oil, coal

Legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Magrum comes in response to Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline that is being reviewed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

Summit demonstration.jpeg
A few dozen landowners on Nov. 18, 2021, attend Summit Carbon Solutions' demonstration south of Beulah, North Dakota, at the site of one of the company's test wells, which will drill to around 12,000 feet to gauge the suitability of the area for carbon dioxide storage. Craig Bihrle / The Forum
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BISMARCK — Bills in the 2023 Legislature seek to eliminate the use of eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines, prompting opposition from energy industry leaders.

Supporters of the legislation say it's important for property rights and safety, while opponents say it could hamper energy development in the state.

Two bills introduced by Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton — Senate Bills 2209 and 2212 — come in response to Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline that is being reviewed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Magrum, who's sponsoring eight bills related to the same subject, told the Tribune that he was urged by several landowners in his district to bring the bills.

“They’re very upset. We have many landowners that don’t want this pipeline on their land for various reasons,” Magrum said.

Jeff Magrum.jpg
Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton

Summit's Midwest Carbon Express pipeline would cross 2,000 miles through Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota, transporting climate-warming CO2 emissions from Midwestern ethanol plants to Oliver and Mercer counties northwest of Bismarck, where they would be injected and stored underground.


Summit is working with landowners along the route to obtain needed easements, but some reluctant property owners worry that the company might use eminent domain to acquire land rights. Eminent domain involves taking private property for use even if a landowner opposes such an action. The landowner is still compensated.

Magrum said concerned landowners in his district "philosophically, they don’t believe in carbon capture. Another reason is this pipeline company has been very bullyish; they’ve been trespassing on people’s land, offering way below market value prices for crossing land … These easements they’re proposing are 99-year easements, which is the maximum allowed by state law. So (landowners) are afraid that they’re going to curse their grandkids with this pipeline because this company is so hard to deal with.”

Summit has previously stated that it hopes to come to agreeable terms with landowners on easements before considering eminent domain.

The company in a statement to the Tribune this week said that over the past year, North Dakota landowners are "embracing carbon capture projects and see these investments as critical to supporting two of the state's major industries -- agriculture and energy.

"Hundreds of North Dakota landowners have signed easement agreements with Summit Carbon Solutions, accounting for 85% of the area where the company will safely sequester CO2 and more than 58% of the proposed pipeline route, with many additional landowners currently considering agreements," the company said. "Given this strong and growing support across the state, it’s not surprising project opponents continue to try to invent distractions in their attempts to prevent essential investments in the state’s infrastructure, even those that will create jobs and grow our economy."

Senate Bill 2209 allows for companies to use eminent domain in a county if they acquire 85% approval from landowners in the path of the pipeline, according to Magrum. Counties could set a higher percentage. The bill “would actually encourage these companies to go out and work with the landowners and be fair with them,” Magrum said.

“(Counties) can say, ‘Well, OK, 85 is enough.’ Or they can say, ‘We want 90% participation by the landowners,’ or whatever they want,” Magrum said.

Senate Bill 2212 would remove CO2 pipelines from state law that allows pipelines to use eminent domain.


Magrum said some of his Emmons County constituents fear a potential pipeline leak, and have raised concerns about the pipeline's proximity to housing and potential to hamper future development. Some residents in northern Burleigh County have similar worries.

Summit told the Tribune that "Carbon capture and sequestration projects utilize long-standing technologies that are proven, reliable, and safe for landowners and communities."

The company also said it "has made 2,800 route adjustments based on feedback from landowners, policymakers, and other stakeholders to avoid identified sensitive areas. This is part of our overall commitment to the safety of our project and our ongoing efforts to drive growth in agriculture and energy long-term."

Coal and oil

Magrum said the Summit pipeline "has caused a lot of heartburn so to speak for me as well because I’m dealing with some landowners… (who) would love to see the project stopped. And then I have the oil companies and the coal companies saying that this could be good for future oil development in the future, yet the technology is not proven.”

Enhanced oil recovery involves injecting CO2 underground to boost production from depleted wells. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms in Jan. 13 comments to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee said CO2 pipelines are necessary for future oil development.

"If we capture all the carbon from North Dakota stationary sources for 50 years ... that is 3% of what we need to process all of the oilfields in North Dakota with enhanced oil recovery," he said, adding that the value of the practice "is almost unmeasurable in terms of what it means to jobs and to the state and to state revenues."

State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

Magrum said, “It could be good for oil but we don’t know that for sure. And so, it’s a delicate balance between industry and property rights."

Helms said during his monthly Director's Cut on Tuesday that both bills would make it “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to build carbon dioxide pipelines in the state,” such as the one that for more than 20 years has transported carbon dioxide captured at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah to oilfields in Canada.


“We cannot do enhanced oil recovery without CO2 pipelines,” Helms said. “So our existing CO2 pipeline required some eminent domain to get it put in place — that's likely to be required in order to build out the infrastructure that we need just simply for enhanced oil recovery."

If the bills pass, "The impact of that would be North Dakota sacrificing potentially 10 billion barrels of oil that we expect would be recovered from enhanced oil recovery projects,” Helms said.

Mineral Resources likely will testify against the bills.

Lignite Energy Council President and CEO Jason Bohrer told the Tribune that the bills wouldn't help the coal industry, which also is exploring carbon capture projects.

“They hurt the industry around the margins because they send a ... signal to the capital markets, to potential investors, to policymakers, to everybody that investing in North Dakota on CO2 projects is going to be a problem," he said. "It increases fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding CO2 infrastructure.

Bohrer said North Dakota "needs a robust CO2 industry" to help the coal, oil and ethanol industries. "And these bills are not helping that development,” he said.

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