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McLean County exploring carbon capture technology, potential guardrails

Project developers plan to build carbon capture pipelines connecting dozens of Midwestern ethanol refineries, such as this one in Chancellor, S.D., shown on July 22, 2021.
Stephen Groves
Project developers plan to build carbon-capture pipelines connecting dozens of Midwestern ethanol refineries, such as this one in Chancellor, South Dakota, shown on July 22, 2021.

McLean County government is preparing for the arrival of carbon capture technology.

Omaha-based Navigator has submitted plans to federal regulators to store liquefied carbon dioxide underground. The project might include McLean County, but county officials anticipate Heartland Greenway will be the first of many CO2 pipeline projects that could try setting up sequestration wells in the county.

It's part of a pipeline project that would carry liquefied carbon dioxide from Iowa and other Midwestern states to central Illinois. The carbon would then be drilled deep into the rock underground.

Proponents tout carbon capture as a climate change solution. Critics say the technology is not safe, or even green, because of the energy spent to keep carbon out of the environment.

McLean County Board member Lea Cline chairs the board’s Land Use and Development Committee, and also heads up an informal committee of board members and county staff that is studying the emerging technology and what role, if any, county government can have.

“One of the things I find most challenging about this subject is that there are multiple points of view within the scientific community, the ecology community, landowner questions,” Cline said. “There are a lot of points of perspective that are in contrast with one another."

Cline added she would like the county to consider carbon capture technology in a way similar to how it assessed wind and solar energy at their inceptions — receptive but with a dose of caution.

Navigator has been talking with landowners in southwestern McLean County and several other nearby counties about setting up injection wells on their property, though Cline said currently the proposed pipeline would run outside the county's borders.

Cline said she’s not aware that any landowner in McLean County has signed off on the project, but indicated more than 70 landowners in neighboring Logan County have granted easement rights.

Cline noted the pipelines are subject to permitting by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Commerce Commission, but local governments can exercise some control over where wells can be placed.

“Do we think that we have a role here as a county in terms of the wells themselves and if we do, then what role?” Cline asked land use committee members during its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Cline said she does not want the county to interfere with landowners right to monetize their land as they wish, but she added the county will need to consider greater impacts.

“How is it going to affect the neighboring properties? How is it going to impact the broader geological and environmental circumstances? That’s what we are concerned about,” Cline said.

“I’m going to hope that these companies are not going to choose the riskiest spot, that they are going to try to find a place that is appropriate, that is not going to upset the most number of people,” said Cline, adding the working group plans to reach out to Navigator, the Illinois Farm Bureau, environmentalists and other stakeholders to try come up with a best approach.

Cline said her “principal” concern about the pipeline is how the wells will be decommissioned when they are no longer in use, especially when landowners and carbon companies change hands.

“It’s absolutely a question we have for the company and for anybody who is going to be coming into the county to do these kinds of wells,” she said.

The county's land use committee has given initial approved to requiring a special use permit for any wells. In that case, each well would be subject to a public hearing.

The proposal will go before the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals at its May 2 meeting. If approved the measure could reach the full county board for a vote at its May 11 meeting.

Cline said the county also hopes to get clarity on pipeline regulations with two bills that are currently under consideration in the Illinois House.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.