SIOUX CITY, Iowa — On February 22nd, 2020 outside a small Mississippi village, a 24-inch pressurized liquid carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide pipeline ruptured. More than 300 people were evacuated from Satartia and surrounding communities. 46 were hospitalized with carbon dioxide poisoning. There were no fatalities. This rupture has been a focal point for those opposing two liquid carbon-capture pipelines setting their sights on the midwest.
One of their biggest concerns is safety.
"We've had a meeting with a first responder from the Satartia explosion with one of the victims that he found unconscious in the car after his rural 4-wheeler died because it was gas," said Jodie Wilson, who is representing her mother in the fight against two carbon-capture pipelines. "You know, that's where we don't believe that they're going to be doing anything for the safety."
"Or the other thing is about emergency response," echoed David Hoferer. "That's after a disaster has happened. So how many people are now unconscious? How many need to be rushed to the hospital? And you know, God forbid anyone dies."
"And a hazmat team has to come in and the nearest hazmat team is over two hours away," said Vicki Hulse. She's taking Navigator CO2 to court over her property rights. "What's going to survive in two hours?"
The response to the Satartia rupture was highly flawed. A report by PHMSA, the governmental pipeline oversight agency says first responders around Satartia were not informed of the rupture by the pipeline company, Denbury Gulf Coast Pipelines LLC, or the safety risk with a CO2 pipeline. That left them essentially guessing on how to properly respond to the rupture.
The rupture was reported at 7:06 p.m. on February 22, 2020. The first emergency call came in at 7:15 p.m. for reports of a "foul smell and green fog" leaving emergency responders thinking it was a chlorine leak in the water supply. Fortunately, responders decided to quickly isolate the affected area by shutting down local highways and evacuating people in proximity to the release. It wasn't until 7:43 p.m. that night, a full 30 minutes after the rupture, that emergency personnel discovered they were dealing with CO2.
From the PHMSA report:
Liquid CO2 vaporizes when released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide vapor is 1.53 times heavier than air, and displaces oxygen, so it can act as an asphyxiant to humans and animals. This delay in information would be one of the biggest changes in safety for CO2 pipeline construction moving forward. The weather conditions and unique topography of the accident site prevented the CO2 vapor from rapidly dispersing and allowing a plume to form that migrated toward Satartia.
The total cost of the rupture was nearly $4 million dollars.
READ THE SATARTIA, MS PIPELINE FAILURE REPORT HERE
"Safety is intrinsic in how we design the project itself, everything from the component pieces of the metal that goes into the piping, to how we route, ultimately where that infrastructure is intended to lie. How we go through a response plan," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson with Heartland Greenway's Navigator CO2 Ventures, one of the two pipelines in production.
Nearly two years after the Satartia rupture, PHMSA announced new safety measures and oversight for carbon dioxide pipelines. One of the biggest changes was updating the standards for emergency preparedness and response. Navigator and Summit Carbon Solutions, the other pipeline, say are making safety an important component of their plan.
"What we have learned from some of the other projects in the carbon capture space and how we've thus then improved those safety factors as part of our design and routing implementation," said Burns-Thompson.
Lee Blank, the CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions said they too are making safety a priority. "We have safety and environmental people on staff today that are working with the local communities as we speak."
Kelly Nieuwenhuis is a farmer in rural O'Brien County, Iowa. He has signed easement agreements with both Navigator and Summit to place pipelines on his property. Even though he is miles from the nearest fire station, he isn't worried.
"I'm not concerned about it because the pipelines today are so much better than they were 20-30 years ago just because of technology," said Nieuwenhuis. "You know, they got sensors on them. They got shut off valves and somebody's going to be watching those 24 hours a day."
Summit tells me they will have the ability to monitor their pipeline 24/7 once it is in operation. Navigator says they've already begun training with area first responders along the route. "We do regular drills and tests of those response plans on an ongoing basis," said Burns-Thompson. "But we are also required and we'll go and reevaluate the risk models on the infrastructure itself so as the landscape continues to evolve as a community grows."
"But we will properly train and supply various pieces of equipment that they may need to assist with an issue that may come up from our infrastructure project," Blank said about training emergency personnel, "even though the percentage or the odds of that are fairly small."
And the companies say they will continue that conversation even after their pipelines are in operation.
Just like there's not stagnation in business," said Burns-Thompson, "there's also not stagnation in safety or how we evaluate the asset.
But for many in the path of these carbon dioxide pipelines that's not enough. There is a genuine fear they say, considering most of rural America is kept safe by volunteers.
"You look at it, they are placing a large burden on first responders that I don't think that they're going to meet," said Stee Maxwell, another concerned landowner in the pipeline path. "So you can promise a lot of stuff. Are they actually going to come through? That's the question. That's very, very doubtful."
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