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McLean County Board committee advances amendment regulating CO2 well placement

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
AP (File)
Project developers plan to build carbon capture pipelines connecting dozens of Midwestern ethanol refineries, such as this one in Chancellor, S.D., shown here on July 22, 2021.

The McLean County Land Use and Development Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to the county's zoning ordinance that provides new parameters for the placement of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration wells that store liquified carbon dioxide underground.

The amendment is part of the county board's focus on the possibility of carbon-capture technology coming to McLean County. In May, board members approved a new requirement for any energy company seeking to drill sequestration wells to apply for a special-use zoning permit.

The amendment committee members approved Tuesday lays out specific guidelines for CO2 sequestration wells, a method of storing CO2 deep underground. Included among the proposed guidelines are:

  • A requirement that wells cannot be within 1,500 feet of an occupied home, livestock shelter, commercial or manufacturing building or a school or community building;
  • Lighting at the well must be shielded to prevent glare "substantially beyond the boundaries of a CO2 facility"; and
  • A requirement for the zoning permit applicant or well owner to work with local fire and emergency management agencies to both develop and fund emergency response plans.

Previously, the county's zoning code applied the same rules for oil and gas drilling or refining to CO2 wells; the amendment committee members approved Tuesday adds an additional 500 feet of distance for CO2 sequestration.
The proposed amendment now heads to the county board's executive committee on Monday. From there, it may head to the full county board for approval on Sept. 14.

District 8 board member Lea Cline chairs the Land Use and Development Committee. She said the amendment stems from ongoing efforts from the county's CO2 working group to determine what regulatory role the county can take as interest in carbon sequestration grows.

Lea Cline
District 8 board member Lea Cline chairs the Land Use and Development Committee.

The work comes in the wake of Omaha-based energy company Navigator seeking to build a 1,300-mile pipeline to transport carbon dioxide from ethanol and fertilizer plants in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois to sequestration sites in Christian and Montgomery counties. A company spokesperson confirmed earlier this year Navigator was in talks with landowners about sequestration wells in Tazewell, McLean and Logan counties.

Cline said one such CO2 well already has been dug — but not yet filled, as that requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — in Christian County.

"It's given us the opportunity to see what that looks like on the ground, and it's my understanding that the company is asking what our rules are going to be," Cline said at the meeting. "(It's) sort of imperative for us to get some basic rules on the ground about some safety issues."

"I think in the absence of legislative intervention by Springfield, we're going to have to figure this out one step at a time."

'Stop, reconsider, and go back to the drawing boards'

Seven members of the public signed up for the morning meeting's public comment portion, with the executive director of Bloomington-based Illinois People's Action's among them. The 27-year-old group champions progressive and justice-related causes, according to its website.

"When we share the draft ordinance that you have with other people, including some experts, they asked us where the rest of it was," said IPA's Don Carlson. "You have to get this right. You can't kick the can down the road and think that the EPA or the state is somehow going to solve it for you."

Carlson said the group's "suggestion is to stop, reconsider, and go back to the drawing boards and prepare an ordinance that addresses" those issues.

Dawn Dannenbring, the Illinois People's Action group's environmental justice campaign leader, suggested any money offered to the county by Navigator "isn't enough" to justify endangering the region's underground water supply (the Mahomet Aquifer).

"There is no amount of money that is going to be enough if someone dies from this," Dannenbring said.

Later, Cline confirmed Navigator had offered money to the county, but clarified that the county had not accepted the offer.

Other public commenters suggested the county had more authority than is currently believed for regulation; Cline said the county has been exploring its options for months and found it limited. Trevor Sierra, first assistant state's attorney in the civil division, said the fact that McLean County is not a home-rule entity complicates matters.

"McLean County only has the powers inferred by the state government," he said. "In my opinion, the county only has zoning authority, which generally goes to protecting and conserving values of property throughout the county, lessening or avoiding congestion of the public street ways, lessening or avoiding hazards to persons and damage to property."

Cline said the county plans to hire legal representation to advocate for the county during EPA and Illinois Commerce Commission well-approval processes to "primarily request that the EPA not allow permitting of CO2 wells over the Mahomet Aquifer."

She told committee members Tuesday the amendment before them "is a very tiny piece" of the work the county plans to continue to do going forward.

"We're not done and we don't have all the answers," Cline said. "It's a process and we're responding as we know what to do and make sense of it."

Tim Shelley and Eric Stock contributed reporting.

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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