MINOT, N.D. — In May, Gov. Doug Burgum set a goal for North Dakota to be a carbon-neutral state by 2030 without new regulations or mandates.

The announcement, made at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, of all places, induced a lot of cringing.

I was one. I liked the aspiration. I thought putting a clock on it was less wise. Arbitrary deadlines, as a matter of political rhetoric, often come back to bite those who make them.

Aspirations are one thing; reality is another.

Developments since then have suggested that Burgum might really be on to something meaningful. Something that could ease some of the struggles of North Dakota's carbon-heavy industries while simultaneously creating new economic opportunities in our state.

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“Our announcement that we made in May at the Petroleum Conference about getting to carbon neutral by 2030, without regulation, and without mandates but with innovation, has set off a cascade of interest from investors from around the world who then saw that as the calling card that we do have the geologic ability here to store other people’s carbon,” Burgum told attendees at the North Dakota Petroleum Council's annual meeting.

The Great River Energy Coal Creek Station coal plant near the Falkirk mine outside of Underwood, N.D., is the largest power plant in North Dakota   Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
The Great River Energy Coal Creek Station coal plant near the Falkirk mine outside of Underwood, N.D., is the largest power plant in North Dakota Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Burgum is talking about as much as $25 billion in new investments for carbon capture projects coming to North Dakota.

One reason for this is our state's favorable geology. We have underground storage capacity for 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide, an amount roughly equivalent to 5 decades of America's annual energy-related carbon emissions, and that's just what we know about now.

The other reason is Burgum's enthusiasm for this emerging industry, as well as our Republican-led state government's generally business-minded approach to these things.

“If you’re a group that tried to put together a $3 billion pipeline into North Dakota to take the carbon dioxide off of you know biorefineries and ethanol plants, you want to send that CO2 someplace, you want to send that CO2 to a state where the federal government might step in and say, ‘Gee, nice idea you built your pipeline, but we’re not going to permit your well to dispose of the carbon?’” Burgum told the NDPC's annual meeting. “Or would you like to ship it to a state where the state can say we have regulatory authority. We can permit your well, and we can make it happen.”

This ball is already rolling, and it's not just Burgum who deserves the credit.

The biggest carbon capture project in the world is underway in Beulah at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant.

Mitsubishi is working on a blue hydrogen hub that will use natural gas and capture carbon emissions for storage underground.

Carbon capture is part of the deal that helped give new life to Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant, after Great River Energy, its current owner, announced its closure.

Meanwhile, Project Tundra, also a candidate for the largest carbon capture project in the world, a proof of concept project that would be capable of capturing an amount of carbon equivalent to taking 800,000 gasoline-fueled vehicles off the road, is proceeding with backing from the state and federal government.

The leadership of North Dakota's federal delegation — Rep. Kelly Armstrong, Sen. John Hoeven, and Sen. Kevin Cramer — is owed a great deal of credit for clearing the road for these projects.

The proposed infrastructure needed for Project Tundra. MinnKota Power estimates the project will most more than $1 billion and be completed 2025. Submitted photo / MinnKota
The proposed infrastructure needed for Project Tundra. MinnKota Power estimates the project will most more than $1 billion and be completed 2025. Submitted photo / MinnKota

But the future of carbon capture in North Dakota, at least as Burgum sees it, is not one where companies come looking for loans and subsidies. Burgum wants to get out of the way of an industry he sees as ready for prime time.

“[T]here’s going to be an industrial boom in North Dakota in terms of us utilizing our incredible jackpot of geology, not just for the production of energy, but for the storage of carbon," Burgum said. "Capital is going to want to flow through these projects, and that’s going to create jobs, wealth and it’s going to create wealth for pore space owners, which are also protected in this, which will be beneficial to North Dakota’s economy.”

If the capital flows as Burgum and our other state leaders expect, there will be new opportunities and new wealth created, sure, but there will also be existing opportunities and existing prosperity preserved as well.

That last is what's driving a lot of the consternation about these projects. The wind and solar industries see carbon capture, which could make things like coal plants viable well into the future, as a threat. Certain political interests have invested themselves in the idea of coal and oil going away, and they won't let go of that position easily.

North Dakota's future shouldn't be held hostage by anti-competitive animus and blinkered ideologies.

Carbon capture is still an emerging technology, and not every project proposed in North Dakota is going to be successful, but Burgum is betting that enough of them will be to fundamentally change our state's trajectory, and I think he's right.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.