Controversial carbon capture stirs attention of Illinois lawmakers, environmentalists
As Illinois considers ways to achieve its goal of relying entirely on clean energy by 2050, one technology that has courted controversy is carbon capture.
Carbon capture is a method whereby carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, is placed in long-term storage, usually by injection into wells in geologic formations thousands of feet underground. These wells take advantage of empty “pore space” in subsurface structures. It is sometimes referred to as carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, or CCUS.
The carbon capture industry is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, particularly as high emissions industries look for ways reduce their carbon footprint.
With several planned projects in the state, some lawmakers are looking at how to regulate it to ensure safety for people living near pipelines or sequestration wells.
“We can’t let it continue without some significant regulation around it,” Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said in an interview.
Williams is the chair of the Illinois House Energy & Environment Committee. She helped lead a four-way joint hearing with House and Senate committees on Monday to discuss the subject of carbon capture technology.
“I don’t see it as a solution to the climate crisis,” Williams said. “I see it as a step along the way.”
Sallie Greenberg was among those at the virtual committee hearing. She is a principal research scientist at the Illinois State Geological Survey and was the lead author of an extensive Prairie Research Institute report on the subject commissioned by the General Assembly.
“We have some of, if not the most favorable geology for this particular activity in the country,” Greenberg said at the hearing.
The Illinois Basin, an underground structure covering roughly 70 percent of the state, has drawn interest from those working on carbon capture technology for decades, according to the report. The basin is also home to the country’s first commercial-scale carbon sequestration project — a 6,800-foot-deep storage well on the grounds of the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company in Decatur.
The report identified some regulatory gaps at the state and federal level, including a lack of clear law around pore space ownership, the lack of federal regulation around eminent domain for CO2 pipelines and the need for long-term stewardship and oversight over storage sites.
Lawmakers consider action
Lawmakers, advocates and industrial groups are all in talks about legislation that would regulate the technology, from capture to transport to storage. One of the bills, backed by environmental groups, is being sponsored by Williams, although she said negotiations are ongoing.
“We certainly don’t have a final product,” Williams said in an interview.
House Bill 3119 would ensure that a company engaging in carbon transport or injection is solely liable for any damages caused by carbon dioxide transportation. It would also establish that the owner of surface land also owns the title to the “pore space” underneath it. This is the underground area into which carbon dioxide can be injected.
The bill would also establish a permitting structure for carbon capture projects and requirements for setbacks from occupied land, alongside a fee structure to fund the new regulatory mandates.
Ariel Hampton is the legal and government affairs director for the Illinois Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group that supports the legislation.
“A lot of this process isn’t really covered by the federal government,” Hampton said in an interview.
Hampton added that investments in carbon capture can sometimes do more harm than good for the environment, either through their design or because captured CO2 can be used in “enhanced oil recovery.” This process involves increasing the pressure in an oil well to extract more oil. Williams’ bill would ban using captured CO2 for this purpose.
“If we’re increasing net carbon trying to get carbon into the ground, that’s not helpful,” Hampton said.
Another set of bills, House Bill 2202 and Senate Bill 2153, have support from industry groups like ADM, Navigator CO2 and the Illinois Manufacturers Association. They’re being sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago. These bills don’t regulate the transport of carbon dioxide, such as through a pipeline like the Heartland Greenway project. The bills codify pore space ownership and create an application process at the Department of Natural Resources for companies to follow when obtaining rights to use pore space.
Mark Denzler, the head of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said the two bills the organization supports are focused on “landowner’s protection.”
Another point of contention between industry and environmental groups is the question of who has regulatory authority over pipelines.
At the federal level, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has regulatory oversight over CO2 pipelines, which sometimes cross state lines. Last spring the administration began a new rulemaking process for pipeline safety, although this process will likely take years.
The rulemaking came in response to an investigation into a 2020 incident where a CO2 pipeline near Satartia, Mississippi, burst, hospitalizing dozens and displacing hundreds more.
Navigator, an industry leader and operator of a planned pipeline in Illinois, are backing the second set of bills.
“Other states around the U.S. with the physical attributes necessary for geologic sequestration have adopted similar concepts as those outlined in HB 2202,” the company said in a written statement to Capitol News Illinois. “For Illinois to attract CCUS investments and meet our state's environmental goals, this legislation creates a landscape for large-scale projects to succeed, and that is why we are in support of HB 2202.”
Monday’s joint hearing was a “subject matter hearing,” meaning no votes were taken.
Potential pipeline draws controversy
The Heartland Greenway pipeline from Navigator CO2 is a proposed 1,300-mile pipeline for transporting carbon dioxide for eventual storage or utilization that would run through five states. The Illinois segment of the project runs through fourteen west-central counties. It is one of at least four Illinois projects with applications to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Some residents and landowners in these counties are staunchly opposed to the development. Among their concerns: the risk of a pipeline rupture and potential water contamination at the pipeline’s endpoints. Karen Brocklesby, a Christian County resident who was approached to sell pore space under her family’s farm for CO2 storage, spoke to lawmakers on Monday.
“Long after the project has ended, we have learned that it will take more than 100 years for the CO2 to solidify into the rock,” Brocklesby said. “Our children and grandchildren will be living with the risks to their water, their soils and potentially their lives for generations while the industry profits.”
Under a 2011 state law, pipelines must be granted a certificate of authority from the Illinois Commerce Commission. In February, Navigator filed an expanded application, adding 42 miles of pipeline to its previous application. A final decision is expected from the ICC before January of next year.
While Navigator did not respond to questions about these concerns, they did say that they plan to comply with all relevant guidelines, including any potential rules for safety from PHMSA.
“Our company’s technical team maintains communication with our federal regulators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the lead oversight agency on the sequestration wells and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regarding safety of the design, construction, and operations of the pipeline,” the company said. “We intend to meet, and in many cases, exceed the stated requirements. If and when new requirements are put forward by PHMSA, we must meet them. There is no grandfathering for safety compliance.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.