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Opponents of U.S. carbon pipeline draw lessons from prior pipeline fights

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By Leah Douglas

Oct 24 (Reuters) - Landowners hoping to block proposed carbon pipeline projects in the U.S. Midwest are getting help from some of America's most prominent anti-pipeline campaigners, including groups that fought the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Environmental non-profit Sierra Club and progressive group Bold Alliance are working alongside local organizations to aid property owners across five Midwest states, and are applying lessons learned in their past campaigns, they told Reuters.

Their involvement suggests a big battle lies ahead for the Summit Carbon Solutions' Midwest Carbon Express pipeline and two other proposed projects intended to carry carbon dioxide thousands of miles from ethanol plants to underground storage sites, as those companies attempt to convince landowners to voluntarily give them easements for their routes.

While the new projects will not carry oil, the anti-pipeline groups argue that they pose environmental risks because captured carbon can be used to extend the life of oil fields, and long-term underground storage of carbon is unproven.

Many of the landowners, meanwhile, oppose the projects for reasons ranging from concerns about damage to their farmland during construction to the potential for pipe leaks that could pose a health threat.

Summit said it has secured 48% of the easements needed to run what would be the world's largest carbon capture pipeline nearly 2,000 miles (3,220 km) across Iowa and four other states. But to begin construction on time in 2023, it may need to seize some of the rest through eminent domain law - the power of the government to take private property for public use.

"At the end of the day, there might be some landowners that may have a path for eminent domain when we get to the end of the project," said Summit Chief Executive Lee Blank. "That’s not our hope."

Groups like Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota, Dakota Rural Action in South Dakota, and Bold Nebraska – part of the Bold Alliance - are preparing to help landowners fight eminent domain claims by organizing them for collective legal representation.

That strategy was used in Nebraska during the fight against Keystone XL, said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska and a founder of the Bold Alliance.

Kleeb helped lead the decade-long campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried Canadian oil to U.S. refineries, in what became a symbol for the U.S. climate movement. U.S. President Joe Biden revoked XL’s federal permit in soon after taking office.

Nebraska attorney Brian Jorde of Domina Law Group, who also represented landowners opposed to Keystone XL, said hundreds of people who live along the Summit route, as well as the routes proposed by Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions, have signed up with his firm.

'THEY'RE SO PISSED OFF'

The issue has united unlikely allies: environmentalists who oppose carbon capture and conservative rural landowners angry that private companies could seize their land.

Backers of carbon capture and storage (CCS) say the technology can keep greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and is essential for the United States to meet its climate goals, a position supported by the Biden administration. The ethanol industry in particular is hoping that CCS will help it bring down or eliminate its net carbon footprint.

But most CCS projects in the United States so far inject captured carbon into oil fields to boost oil production, and permanent underground storage of carbon is unproven. That undermines the pipeline companies' environmental claims, said Jess Mazour, an Iowa organizer with Sierra Club.

"We shouldn’t separate these from oil and gas pipelines," she said.

Not all anti-pipeline landowners are swayed by the environmental argument, but got involved when their property rights were implicated, said Chase Jensen, an organizer with Dakota Rural Action.

"Groups that fought (Keystone XL) are considered these radical environmental groups," he said. "But once (landowners) get hit by their own pipeline, they understand."

Some landowners along the Summit route in North Dakota are particularly concerned because they already host sections of the Keystone 1 and Dakota Access oil pipelines on their property, said Scott Skokos, executive director of Dakota Resource Council.

"That’s part of the reason they’re so pissed off," he said.

Dan Wahl, an Iowa farmer who lives along the Summit route and opposes the pipeline, for example, said he was motivated to run for local office to represent his many neighbors who are angry with the project.

"The absolute goal is to stop the pipeline," he said.

Litigation has already emerged over the companies' ability to survey properties along their proposed routes.

One landowner in Iowa recently won a case against Navigator, blocking its survey. Jorde is representing several dozen more landowners in similar cases, he said. (Reporting by Leah Douglas Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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