Port: Maybe the Summit carbon pipeline isn't as controversial as it seems?

If you've been led to believe that Summit Carbon Solutions is steamrolling landowners on their way to building their new carbon pipeline, you might want to recheck the facts.

Carbon storage presentation.jpg
A group gathers to learn more about the Summit Carbon Solutions plan to store carbon from ethanol plants underground at a site northwest of Bismarck, North Dakota on Nov. 18, 2021. A rig for drilling a storage well is in the background.
Craig Bihrle / Special to Agweek

Minot, N.D. — To hear some pundits and paid activists tell it, the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline, a project of Summit Carbon Solutions, has run into a brick wall of landowner opposition as it works its way through North Dakota's regulatory process.

Is that true?

There's no question that Summit has gotten off on the wrong foot with some landowners. There are too many stories from landowners who say they've felt bullied and abused by the company to ignore.

That's not a good thing, given how important this project is to North Dakota's nascent carbon storage industry, which has the potential to be an economic force in its own right while simultaneously North Dakota's existing carbon-heavy industries, like agriculture and energy, adapt to the realities of 21st-century business.

Summit should have done a better job.


But it sure seems like they've turned things around based on a number they're touting ahead of a public hearing before the Public Service Commission. "Summit Carbon Solutions, the company trying to build what it calls the world’s biggest carbon capture and storage project, says it now has secured about 70% of the right-of-way needs for the pipeline in North Dakota," our Jeff Beach reports .

"A carbon pipeline could be a lifeline for North Dakota's carbon-heavy industries, but a certain faction of citizens can't get past the term 'climate change.'"
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That's big progress. Just months ago, in October, they were at 51%. And remember, these are voluntary easements, meaning the pipeline company has reached a compromise with the landowners.

Are you surprised? You might be.

This project has inspired a motley collection of noisy enemies. People you wouldn't normally see working together.

There are the environmental activists who, bizarrely, oppose carbon capture and storage because it would help keep the oil and coal development in line with modern environmental standards.

They're standing next to populist "conservatives" who think we can bury our heads in the sand while the market for carbon-heavy energy and agriculture products shrinks.

And next to them are people who just don't like Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. John Hoeven, both of whom have worked hard at advancing carbon capture and storage. State Sen. Jeff Magrum, who has made little progress with anti-carbon capture bills this legislative session, falls into this camp , though his record as a property rights champion is spotty given that he tried to use an arcane legal strategy to take his neighbor's land without paying for it .

These folks can be loud. These folks claim to be speaking for the landowners. And yet, Summit is in agreement with the owners of most of the North Dakota land along the route of their pipeline.


The politics of building something like a pipeline are complicated, and when we discuss them, we tend to focus on the holdouts and not those who have come to terms. The holdouts and those sympathetic to them like to portray themselves as being representative of all landowners, and they do garner most of the attention.

Squeaky wheels get the grease, after all.

But they're not representative. And, by the way, everyone is a holdout until they find an accord on an easement. Sometimes, though, not always, opposition is just posturing.

The opponents of this pipeline talk about it as if it were some new, untested technology that could be dangerous, but carbon pipelines aren't new. There's been one that's hundreds of miles long operating in western North Dakota for decades now .

They talk about property rights, and while eminent domain is a part of the conversation around Summit's pipeline, and while that's always a fraught topic, it's worth noting that some of North Dakota's loudest voices against Summit's project were fine with using eminent domain when it was for an oil pipeline .

It's hard to fault any property owner who doesn't want the headache of pipeline construction on their property. We might disagree with them, but they're entitled to their point of view. But not all of the opposition is pure. Some of it is rooted in petty political rivalries. Others believe, cynically, that if they can kill off carbon capture, it will be the death kneel for oil and coal development. Still, others are professional operatives just collecting a paycheck.

Again, these folks are noisy, but what they're telling us about this project isn't necessarily reality.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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