In recent article from the Food & Water Watch (FWW) attacking Iowa farms, the organization made some troubling claims about carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). And if you need a refresher on who FWW is, check out this CAP blog post from earlier this year where we took a look at some of their other ill-advised positions on carbon capture and infrastructure.
Let’s run a quick fact check:
Claim: Iowa faces another false solution in carbon capture and storage. The technology aims (and has largely failed) to capture CO2 from industrial sources and pipe it into underground reservoirs. But it has cost taxpayers billions in subsidies, with nothing to show for it.
Fact: If carbon capture is a false solution, someone should let the rest of the environmental community know. Carbon capture has been identified as key to reaching U.S. and global climate goals by the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, the Energy Transitions Commission, the International Energy Agency, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And that’s not including U.S. presidential administrations from both parties, the National Academy of Science (NAS), and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GA).
But FWW’s opposition is actually based on its belief that carbon capture is only extending the lifecycle of fossil fuels. The truth is, even as we continue to ramp up renewable energy power generation, the overwhelming majority of our energy consumption today is based on fossil energy, with roughly one-third of that driven by the industrial and commercial sectors. Carbon capture is a technological solution available right now to address just that. The goal is not limited to only carbon capture projects, but rather to invest in them alongside other decarbonization efforts so that we are addressing our short-, medium-, and long-term energy needs. For more on this issue, check out an earlier CAP blog post here.
Claim: Now, corporations are proposing three carbon pipelines across Iowa. Winding through private land, they’ll carry captured carbon from ethanol facilities and fertilizer plants. Far from a climate solution, the project will only entrench industrial agriculture and resource-intensive monocropping required for ethanol production.
Fact: As we’ve stated before, FWW’s position on the issue of protecting landowner rights is hypocritical and ever-changing. For example, the organization is proud of its victories subjecting agriculture facilities to an overlay of federal regulations and it’s been reported that one of its board members has called for all nations to take bodies of water out of private hands.
Really, FWW is just against pipelines, which is problematic because they are deemed the safest mode of energy transportation by every regulatory body at each level of government. In fact, the NAS recently released a report that stated CO2 pipelines, specifically, are “among the safest in the industry” and captured carbon from ethanol facilities to be one of two primary opportunities for CO2 infrastructure investment it recommended for leveraging carbon capture on behalf of the United States’ stated environmental goals.
Claim: Additionally, carbon pipelines are exceedingly dangerous. Explosions or leaks can release fatal amounts of concentrated CO2. In 2020, a carbon pipeline rupture in Satartia, MS showed that CO2 displaces oxygen in engines, stopping emergency vehicles in their tracks.
Fact: Again, CO2 pipelines are not exceedingly dangerous. Time and time again non-partisan, science- and research-based organizations (of which the FWW is not one) have concluded that CO2 pipelines are safe and effective.
As for the 2020 incident cited, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) investigation found that a landslide and company-specific operational failures were to blame. The incident is neither reflective of the industry’s best practices nor the technological integrity of pipeline infrastructure to transport CO2.
Additionally, it is important to note that right now, pressurized liquid carbon dioxide is moved almost exclusively by truck, which has a significantly different safety record than pipelines. As such, a mature CO2 pipeline network is to the benefit of public and environmental safety.
Claim: Like factory farm gas, carbon capture worsens the problem it claims to solve. For instance, it requires lots of power. A large-scale buildout could actually increase U.S. power plants’ consumption of coal and natural gas.
Fact: CCUS can capture more than 90% of the CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities. It is one of the few solutions available that tackle emissions from heavy industries like fuels and chemical manufacturing and cement and steel production. By leveraging CCUS, we can achieve 14% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions needed by 2050 to combat climate change, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Finally, carbon capture can work alongside zero-emissions resources like renewables and nuclear energy to ensure that we are reducing our carbon emissions quickly and effectively. In other words, carbon capture offers something activist groups like FWW don’t – a solution.
Claim: Iowans know our backyards are no place for carbon capture. To date, 64% of Iowa’s impacted counties have filed objections to the pipelines, joining thousands of opposing public comments to the IUB. The Iowa legislature can and must stop the use of eminent domain for pipelines in 2023.
Fact: Let’s start with eminent domain, which is not an industry trump card but rather a legal mechanism used to further the public benefit of infrastructure development. For example, it is how we get highways, the infrastructure that allows crops to eventually reach grocery stores, ambulances to transport patients to hospitals, and many of us to get home to our families this holiday season.
As for opposition to pipeline projects, what FWW leaves out are the findings of a recent GAO report that stated the vast majority of it was based on three issues: 1) misconceptions about CO2, believing it to be explosive; 2) misconceptions about CO2 storage processes; and 3) beliefs that the CCUS process is unproven and unknown.
For a more accurate rundown on the track record and safety of carbon capture, check out CAP’s resource library HERE.