Overview:Fears of explosions prompt CO2 pipeline bill

The bill would reverse previous legislation that allowed companies to use eminent domain for pipelines for carbon capture projects that have been proposed in the state

A Louisiana legislator wants to help keep landowners from losing their property to pipelines needed for the dozens of carbon capture projects proposed around the state.

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, has prefiled a bill for the upcoming 2023 Louisiana legislative session that would remove eminent domain rights given to private companies 14 years ago allowing them to seize private property for such pipelines. 

For Carter, whose district includes East Feliciana, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes where some of the carbon capture projects have been proposed, the issue isn’t just one of property rights; it’s a safety issue, too.

“Once you put it in the ground, will it expand back to gas? Cause earthquakes? We don’t know,” said Carter, who is concerned about the effects carbon sequestration could have on groundwater as well. 

Fossil fuel companies are counting on the projects to lessen their climate pollution, but there are questions about the projects’ energy and water usage, among other things. 

Mike Moncla, president of the industry-backed Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, says Carter’s proposal is unnecessary and could hamper future carbon capture efforts in the state.

Carter isn’t the only one concerned about carbon capture and storage. Last year, Livingston Parish tried to implement a yearlong moratorium on the construction and drilling of carbon injection wells in the parish, but a federal judge struck the moratorium down. And in Iowa, farmers, landowners and lawmakers are opposed to carbon capture pipeline projects that would lay about 2,000 miles of pipe across the state. Bills similar to Carter’s have been filed in the legislature there.

As of Dec. 31, at least 24 planned carbon capture projects were in the permitting process in Louisiana according to the research by Empower that was commissioned by the non profit 2030 Fund, which seeks to accelerate the transition to clean energy and combat climate change. 

In Carter’s district, there are no full-time emergency response teams to handle the safety concerns he and many of his constituents have around carbon capture. Carter says his worst nightmare is seeing his southeastern Louisiana district rocked by a pipeline explosion similar to the one in 2020 in Satartia, Mississippi, where a 24-inch underground line transporting liquefied carbon dioxide burst, forcing the evacuation of approximately 200 residents and hospitalizing about 40 people.  It’s the worst such incident in the U.S. involving such pipelines.

As of yet, no carbon capture operators have filed notices for eminent domain authority with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, said Patrick Courreges, spokesman for the agency that grants eminent domain status.

Carbon dioxide pipelines and projects raise a broader question regarding eminent domain laws, which allow property to be seized, with compensation, under a set of conditions, including whether a project is for the overall public good.

“The argument is going to be ‘what is the public benefiting from this?’” said John Sutherlin, a professor of political science and public administration at the University of Louisiana Monroe. 

“That’s easier to understand when you’re talking about giving up access for a sidewalk or utility line,” he added. 

2030 Fund is a supporter of Floodlight. This story copublished in the Louisiana Illuminator and The Lens