Opinion: CO2 pipeline technology is safe and beneficial

As the President of the Laborers International Union Local 177, I’ve had the privilege of representing working men and women who have built pipeline systems all across Iowa and the country. Having worked in this capacity for years and seen this work up close, I feel obligated to respond to the Register’s Sept. 11 story on the safety of carbon capture pipeline systems, which from my perspective was misleading.

More: Builders vow CO2 pipelines will be safe. Worried Iowans point to a Mississippi rupture.

First, there seems to be a perception that pipelines are used infrequently, when in reality these systems are extensive and help keep our economy moving. Across the United States there are 3.3 million miles of pipelines in service today or the equivalent of traveling from the earth to the moon nearly 14 times or traveling around the world 132 times. There are more than 45,000 pipeline miles in Iowa alone, all of which help ensure families and businesses have access to the energy they need. Pipelines are critical infrastructure, and our country simply couldn’t operate a modern economy without them. Let’s not pretend that the construction, materials, or operations of the pipelines being proposed in Midwest are in any way new.

Moreover, pipeline systems are safe, and that is particularly true of carbon capture pipelines that utilize long-standing technologies that are reliable and proven. Today, dozens of ethanol plants capture CO2. There are thousands of miles of CO2 pipelines that have operated for more than 20 years without a single fatality. Geologic storage has been studied by policymakers, engineers, and more, and they have found it to be an effective and safe method for the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions. No one can plausibly argue that this technology — carbon capture, transporting CO2, or CO2 storage — is somehow new or hasn’t been in use for years. That is simply untrue.

Another View: We've done the research, and we oppose the CO2 pipelines

Pipelines are also highly regulated to ensure they are safe. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the United States Department of Transportation, has extensive and comprehensive regulations to govern the construction and operation of any pipeline system. These regulations are continually evaluated and updated based on data to determine where new rulemaking is required. Rules around the depth of pipelines, inspection of welds, maximum distances between isolation valves, and so much more are set by PHMSA and overseen by its team of experts to ensure compliance. Insinuations or outright claims that these systems lack oversight to ensure safety are simply false.

What is new about these pipelines are the broad benefits Iowans will receive. These projects will allow ethanol producers, who are so critical to our economy, to sell their product in the growing number of states and countries that pay more for low carbon fuels. That’s critical because the ethanol industry purchases nearly 60% of all the corn grown in Iowa and helps ensure strong commodity prices and land values year in and year out. These multi-billion-dollar investments will utilize local suppliers and help support local businesses to generate economic growth. And the companies developing the projects will pay tens of millions of dollars in new property taxes every year to help communities support critical local priorities such as education, health care, infrastructure, public safety and more.

I hope Iowans will come together to support the carbon capture projects being proposed in the state, as they are good for our economy, good for our environment, and, speaking as someone who has been involved in pipeline projects for years, safe above all else.

Richie Schmidt
Richie Schmidt

Richie Schmidt is president of Laborers International Union Local 177 in Des Moines.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: CO2 pipeline technology is safe and useful