A year ago, the Midwest announced another pipeline project. Most pipelines extract oil or gas from a well and deliver it to customers who burn it, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This one works almost in reverse. A company called Summit Climate Solutions plans to capture carbon dioxide from ethanol refineries in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas and then transport it through a proposed pipeline to a site in North Dakota, Carbon dioxide will be buried deep underground.

In the months since, two more companies have proposed similar CO2 pipeline projects in the Midwest, and another wants to expand an existing pipeline in the South. The sudden boom was driven by federal and state incentives for carbon capture and storage (CCS), a new low-interest loan program for carbon dioxide pipelines passed by Congress last year, and the Biden administration’s general support for developing “carbon emissions” . management” industry and strive to reduce carbon emissions.

But as the number of pipeline proposals has multiplied, a new report commissioned by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group, warns that CO2 pipeline regulations are not up to the task of keeping communities safe.

“The country is ill-prepared for the increase in CO2 pipeline miles driven by federal CCS policy,” wrote report author Richard Kuprewicz, an independent pipeline safety consultant hired by the Pipeline Safety Trust. “Federal pipeline safety regulations need to change quickly to address this new challenge and ensure the public has confidence in federal pipeline safety regulations.”

Pipeline safety is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The agency began regulating carbon dioxide pipelines in 1991. Today, the United States has just over 5,000 miles of carbon dioxide pipelines, most of which carry carbon dioxide to oil fields, where companies pump it underground to stimulate oil production. But the researchers assert that capturing carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and absorbing it directly from the air will be important tools in the fight against climate change. To transport carbon dioxide to a location where it can be permanently sequestered underground, they estimate that 30,000 to 65,000 miles of pipeline may be needed in the United States.

According to Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, the most worrisome finding in the new report is that the regulations assessing the potential impact of a CO2 pipeline rupture were not designed specifically for CO2. Every pipeline developer must identify potential “high consequence areas” where accidental leaks could have a significant negative impact on human health or the environment. High-consequence areas for oil and gas pipelines are well-defined, but the report notes that CO2 has different considerations and may have a larger scope of concern. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and a wisp of carbon dioxide can travel for miles, depending on wind and terrain, and fall into low-lying areas. The report warned that such incidents would be difficult for nearby people and first responders to detect because carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless and non-flammable.

“If I had to single out one finding from the report that would keep me awake at night as a public safety advocate, it would be that,” Karam said.

Residents of Satatia, Mississippi, learned this the hard way in 2020, when a carbon dioxide pipe burst and a plume of carbon dioxide settled over the town, causing people to feel dizzy, nauseous and disoriented. Many passed out. Forty-nine people went to the hospital. PHMSA has not released an incident report detailing the cause of the rupture.

“That happened more than two years ago,” Karam said. “When this report wasn’t published, it’s crazy that the community is being asked to take the risk burden on these pipelines, and all these questions are left unanswered.”

In addition to urging PHMSA to update the way it assesses areas of potential impact, the Kuprewicz report also recommends that PHMSA require pipeline operators to inject odorants into carbon dioxide pipelines as standard for natural gas pipelines to help alert the public to potentially dangerous leaks. It introduces new requirements for informing and training local officials and emergency responders about the unique dangers posed by carbon dioxide emissions. It also recommends setting purity standards for carbon dioxide transported by pipeline, as impurities present additional risks.

A spokesman for PHMSA did not comment on the concerns raised in the missing Satartia report or the Kuprewicz report. But the agency did say it was reviewing his findings and developing new measures to strengthen safety standards for carbon dioxide pipelines, as the White House directed PHMSA and other agencies overseeing CCS programs to do in interim guidance issued in February.

Similar to Kuprewicz, the White House guidelines call for contingency planning and training for carbon dioxide pipelines. It mentioned the need for new tools to monitor and improve security, but did not describe which tools were needed. It also states that the effects of climate change, such as floods and storms, should be considered in the design, construction and maintenance of carbon dioxide pipelines.

Lee Beck, global carbon capture director at the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit advocating for CCS deployment, said the Pipeline Safety Trust report “provides important insights and raises very important questions.” But from her perspective, a Biden administration The guidance document said it was “very clear about what needs to be done to ensure regulatory security”. Baker also noted that since 2010, only 66 CO2 pipeline accidents and no fatalities have been reported. According to PHMSA, the accident rate per mile of CO2 pipelines in 2020 is about half that of crude oil pipelines.

But Caram is concerned that PHMSA does not have the funds or capacity to effectively create new rules. “I think they are notoriously underfunded and understaffed institutions,” he said.

Rory Jacobson, deputy director of policy at the nonprofit Carbon180, also raised the issue. “Ultimately, PHMSA will need Congress to strengthen its regulatory capacity, funding and jurisdiction to effectively and legally oversee the implementation of the newly adopted carbon management policy,” he said in an email. Carbon180 advocates for policies that support carbon removal, a climate solution designed to absorb carbon directly from the atmosphere, some of which will utilize carbon dioxide pipelines.

Other pipeline proponents highlighted the industry’s track record on safety. “PHMSA and the gas and oil industries have decades of experience in ensuring the safe transportation of carbon dioxide,” Robin Rorick, vice president of midstream policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. Oil and gas industry groups have been key players in developing CO2 pipeline regulations, as oil companies buy CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Rorick did not comment on the report’s findings.

Jesse Harris, a spokesman for Summit Carbon Solutions, the company that is developing the Midwest CO2 pipeline, said PHMSA “clearly mandates multiple layers of protection for CO2 pipeline operations to ensure public safety.” He added: “We look forward to continuing to meet and in many cases exceeds all local, state and federal requirements.”