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Lawmakers in Illinois General Assembly look to ease carbon capture concerns

A liquid carbon dioxide containment unit stands outside the fabrication building of Glenwood Mason Supply Company in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
John Minchillo
A liquid carbon dioxide containment unit stands outside the fabrication building of Glenwood Mason Supply Company in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Carbon capture and sequestration has faced a lot of resistance in Illinois and across the Midwest. State lawmakers are now looking at ways to both expand CCUS and ease the concerns raised about the process.

In 2022 the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation directing the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois to create a report on a potential expansion of carbon capture in Illinois.

Dr. Sallie Greenberg is one of the scientists who worked on this report. She is the former associate director of Energy and Development at the Prairie Research Institute and is currently a consultant who works with governments and private companies on carbon and environmental issues.

She said they found that Illinois’ geology makes it highly suitable for carbon capture and storage.

As part of the process, they spoke with stakeholders like farmers, environmentalists and manufacturers. They wanted to hear what concerns people had about the technology.

“There needs to be state regulations put in place that address stakeholder concerns and ensure the safety of the environment and protection of human health and, and safety. [The] big holders want to be involved and engaged,” she said. “And so there needs to be robust stakeholder engagement processes.”

Carbon capture, storage and utilization is a multi-tiered process meant to stop carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is liquidized at its source and transported to a permanent underground storage site.

The liquid can then be transported on trucks, ships or through a pipeline.

There's considerable scrutiny around the safety of transporting liquidized carbon through pipelines. A 2020 pipeline rupture in rural Mississippi led to 45 hospitalizations.

These questions of safety were raised over a planned pipeline project that would cut through parts of Peoria, Stark and Tazewell Counties. Wolf Carbon Solutions, the company behind the project, withdrew their application with the Illinois Commerce Commission last November, but said they would refile this year.

The report from the Prairie Research Institute was about the storage process, not pipelines, but Greenberg said the topic was often brought up. The research group recommends a follow up report looking at the safety of pipelines.

Jack Darin from the Sierra Club Illinois said they believe an expansion of carbon capture should be put on hold until there are better federal regulations for pipelines.

Darin said the Sierra Club does recognize that carbon capture could be a solution to climate change, if it's done right.

“We want to make sure that this is not done in a way that actually increases other pollutants,” he said. “Capturing carbon from sources can be very energy intensive. So sometimes you may need more energy to run carbon capture technology.”

Porous sandstone lies underneath much of Central Illinois. Greenberg said scientists know the carbon sequestration process works, because oil has been trapped in similar spaces for millions of years.

“The storage of carbon dioxide is essentially using the earth's natural trapping mechanism to hold that liquid carbon dioxide deep in the subsurface,” she said. “I like to think about it as a crate of oranges. So oranges touch each other in many places, but then there are our glass spaces in between them that are called pore space.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires the sites be monitored for 50 years to ensure the carbon dioxide remains underground. EPA regulations also spell out where carbon dioxide can be stored so it does not impact drinking water stores or the natural environment.

“You are required to submit data on a quarterly basis to the Environmental Protection Agency,” she said. “There are certain things you have to do every year, certain things you have to do every five years, but it's a very, very comprehensive set of regulations that govern your ability to be able to store carbon dioxide deep and subsurface.”

The legislation

A new measure in the General Assembly aims to ease some of the worries surrounding carbon sequestration.

The legislation defines pore space as the property of the owner of the surface land.

The issue of land ownership was brought up by farmers, who have raised concerns about the use of eminent domain. That's a policy which allows the state to force landowners to sell their land for public use.

The legislation says after carbon is stored, the state becomes responsible for it — except in cases where a violation by the company causes the leak.

Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said they want to make sure landowners are protected.

“We would also make sure that we protect the farmland,” he said. “This has the highest participation rate in terms of when you do a project of the number of landowners that have to get together and agree on this.”

Matt Rush, a farmer and past president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said they see carbon capture as a potential opportunity for corn growers.

“We have the best formation in our soils to capture this carbon sequestration,” he said. “And there are several ethanol plants across Illinois that could benefit from it and the ultimate return, and what we want to see is an economic benefit to our corn farmers.”

Denzler said manufacturers want to decarbonize, and they see carbon capture as an opportunity to do so. The tax incentives to move forward with carbon capture and sequestration were beefed up in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, with ethanol producers standing to reap big profits.

Denzler said the legislation levies a tax on carbon capture projects. That money then goes towards a fund that would be used to address any issues.

“There is direct revenue going, for example, to first responders to make sure that they have the training that they have the equipment,” he said.

Denzler said that prevents the financial burden from falling on the state or local municipalities.

He said the expansion of this technology could also produce economic growth for Illinois. The study found that the expansions of carbon capture could create as many as 14,400 jobs over the next 10 years, generating more than $3 billion in revenue for the state.

Other legislative options

A different measure sponsored by the Sierra Club would impose stronger safety regulations and make carbon capture companies liable for issues.

Darin said these safety regulations are essential.

“This is an environmental justice issue to ensure that communities like those on the southside of Peoria just like rural landowners are protected before we allow this potentially hazardous material to be shipped through their community,” he said.

Another proposal would place a moratorium on the construction of pipelines until stronger regulations are in place.

The proposals are all in the early stages on the path to becoming law. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn May 24.

Governor JB Pritzker has not taken a solid stance on the issue, but told the State Journal-Register earlier this month he has a “degree of skepticism” on the bill to expand the technology in Illinois.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.