Navigator’s Proposed Carbon Pipeline Struggles to Gain Support in Illinois

McDonough County residents are asking officials to stand their ground as Navigator offers payments totaling up to $18.9 million to the county in exchange for its support.

The POET Bioprocessing, a processing plant that produces ethanol in Menlo, Iowa on April 12, 2022. Navigator partnered with ethanol plants across the Midwest to collect, transport and store 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through a proposed carbon pipeline project. Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
The POET Bioprocessing, a processing plant that produces ethanol in Menlo, Iowa on April 12, 2022. Navigator partnered with ethanol plants across the Midwest to collect, transport and store 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through a proposed carbon pipeline project. Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

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A farming county in Western Illinois doesn’t usually get many attendees at its board meetings. However, audiences—and their complaints—have grown over the last few months since Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures proposed running part of a 1,300-mile carbon dioxide pipeline through a chunk of farmland and residential areas. 

“I feel very violated,” said Cheryl Allison, 67, a farmer in McDonough County. “It shouldn’t be here.”

The system would run beneath three of Allison’s farms, where her family grows soybeans and corn, the top crops in Illinois. The pipeline would also run within a mile of her son’s and daughter’s homes. She worries that failures in the pipeline, Heartland Greenway, could put her family’s health at risk and permanently damage their farmland. 

Many other farmers in the state felt the same. McDonough and four other counties in Illinois issued two-year moratoriums last year on the construction of carbon pipelines, claiming that existing regulations for such projects don’t adequately prevent the pipelines from failing.


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Carbon capture and storage technology removes carbon dioxide from smokestacks and then stores it underground. Navigator’s system would capture carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct from Midwest ethanol and fertilizer plants, transport it in liquefied form and store it underground in Illinois. The pipelines would run 15 million metric tons of liquefied carbon dioxide annually across five states–Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota—when fully up and running. The Heartland Greenway is one of two major carbon pipelines proposed for the Midwest and part of a broader effort by industries to build out the technology nationally.

Carbon capture and storage technology like Navigator’s has garnered significant support from the Biden administration and Congress, with more than $8 billion in subsidies from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and a major expansion of a federal tax credit last year. But many environmental groups have criticized the technology, saying it will play a minimal role in limiting carbon emissions and that fossil fuel and other industries are using it to continue business as usual.

The company is offering up to $630,000 per year for the next 30 years in exchange for the county’s support of the project going forward. The offer brought Navigator representatives, landowners, pipefitters and farmers to a county board committee meeting on Feb. 6, with some planning on expressing their stance on the project again in the next full board meeting this Wednesday. A vote on the matter is not expected soon.

Heartland Greenway CO2 Pipeline

State attorney Matthew Kwacala advised the committee in the recent meeting to take no action because the company’s application with the Illinois Commerce Commission was still open, according to Republican board member Joe Erlandson, chairman of the Law and Legal Committee. He declined to give further comments about the matter. 

The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to close the company’s application soon. The company had not obtained enough leases for the pipeline’s route or for a carbon sequestration site in the state and withdrew its application for eminent domain powers on Jan. 20, after state regulators said the application was incomplete, Energy News Network reported. Now, Navigator will have to start over on the process of landowner outreach. The company announced that it will reapply with an expanded route by the end of February and expressed confidence in its negotiations with landowners. 

Proponents of the project in the meeting claimed that the pipeline would bring more jobs. Opponents, many of whom are farmers and landowners, asked board members to stand their ground.

“Our side still wants protections against CO2 pipelines, and we know this committee will continue their support for those in the room whose land would be taken by eminent domain and would have a dangerous, under-regulated CO2 pipeline cross our land,” Marilyn Shelley, another McDonough resident whose farm would be adjacent to the pipeline, said in her testimony to the committee. 

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In October 2022, McDonough established a two-year moratorium, as residents were worried that the carbon dioxide pipeline would result in a failure similar to the one in Sataria, Mississippi, that sickened dozens of people in 2020. Carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant, which reduces or displaces the oxygen in the air, making it difficult to breathe.

Some farmers say the latest offer is a desperate attempt at rushing the pipeline’s construction before current federal carbon dioxide pipeline regulations are updated. Last year the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it was taking steps to strengthen oversight of pipelines

In a statement to Inside Climate News, Navigator said it would be required to bring the pipeline up to compliance with new regulations if and when they come. “There is no grandfathering when it comes to pipeline safety,” said the company. “The Navigator team has proactively worked to incorporate industry best practices, lessons learned from other operators, as well as input from third-party verification providers to develop a project that is above and beyond the safety standards. The company also added that it is making offers to counties through “Project Development Agreements,” because Illinois does not tax pipelines. 

The company claims the pipeline would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, offsetting the emissions equivalent of 3.2 million passenger cars driven annually and helping the U.S. ethanol industry’s mission to be carbon-neutral by 2050, according to the company’s website.

Mike Kirby, a McDonough County board member, said he is not confident in the technology’s greenhouse gas reduction promises. “We need our friends in labor who are speaking in favor of the pipelines to tell their leaders they want to work on real green energy projects, and not greenwashing ones,” he wrote to Inside Climate News. 

The pipeline has faced fierce opposition across the region; over half of the Iowa counties the pipeline would cross oppose the project, Food and Water Watch reported

“We really don’t want our land infringed upon for a project like this,” said Steve Hess, a fifth-generation farmer in McDonough County and a member of Citizens Against Heartland Greenway Pipeline. “We’re really concerned about the land impacts.”

Hess said the drain tile on his farm is too expensive to be ripped out for the pipeline.

Kurt Kelso, another fifth-generation farmer in McDonough, said he got a call from a right-of-way agent representing Navigator last Wednesday, and a few hours later, another one knocked on his door, both asking him for his support. Both times he declined as he has in the past, Kelso said. The pipeline would run through multiple tracts of his farmland.

Company representatives have been reaching out to landowners for about a year, sending out information packets and engaging in public meetings. Still, the opposition seems to have only mounted.  

“I don’t know of any farmer who has given approval,” said Kelso, who, along with other farmers, said he plans to continue to fight the pipeline at this Wednesday’s meeting.