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A potential Trump VP pick backs a controversial CO2 pipeline favored by the Biden White House

FILE - Republican North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum listens as former President Donald Trump, in foreground, talks to reporters at Manhattan criminal court, May 14, 2024, in New York. Burgum is one of Trump’s most visible and vocal backers, sprinting around the country to drum up support while auditioning to be his running mate. Meanwhile, Burgum is wrestling with a $5.5 billion carbon dioxide pipeline project in his home state. The venture has left him straddling an awkward political divide as Trump and President Joe Biden offer voters starkly different visions of America. (Justin Lane/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Original Publication Date June 24, 2024 - 9:26 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is one of Donald Trump’s most visible and vocal backers, sprinting around the country to drum up support for the former president’s comeback bid while auditioning to be his running mate.

Far from the glare of the campaign trail, however, Burgum is wrestling with a mammoth carbon dioxide pipeline project in his home state. The $5.5 billion venture has split North Dakota and left him straddling an awkward political divide as Trump and President Joe Biden offer voters starkly different visions about how to deal with climate change.

A Republican little known outside North Dakota, Burgum is a serious contender to be Trump’s vice-presidential choice. The two-term governor has stood out in the narrowing field of choices due to his executive experience and business savvy. And Burgum has close ties to deep-pocketed energy industry CEOs whose money Trump wants to help bankroll his third run for the White House.

Burgum is championing the pipeline project, which would gather planet-warming CO2 from ethanol plants across the Midwest and deposit the gas a mile underground. The pipeline aligns with Biden’s push to tackle global climate change, a position that could put him at odds with Trump.

In backing the pipeline, Burgum is navigating the tricky issue of land ownership in deep-red North Dakota and the politics of climate change inside the GOP.

While Burgum has outlined plans to make North Dakota carbon neutral by 2030, he’s steered clear of describing the pipeline or other carbon capture initiatives as environmentally friendly. Instead, he touts them as a lucrative business opportunity for North Dakota that might ultimately assist the fossil fuel industry.

“This has nothing to do with climate change,” Burgum said in early March on a North Dakota radio program. “This has to do with markets.”

The pipeline

The CO2 pipeline, known as the Midwest Carbon Express, is financed by hundreds of investors and will be built by Summit Carbon Solutions of Ames, Iowa. The 2,500-mile pipeline route snakes through Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota before ending in west central North Dakota, where up to 18 million metric tons of CO2 would be entombed each year in underground rock formations.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission, which Burgum chairs, is expected to decide in the coming months whether to approve Summit’s application for a permit to store all the CO2 it collects. Regulators in nearby states are also weighing approval of the pipeline.

As part of Biden’s investment in combating climate change, companies may receive $85 from the federal government for every metric ton of CO2 collected from industrial facilities and permanently sequestered. They can also get $60 for each ton stored and later used to produce more oil, a process that involves injecting carbon dioxide into oilfields to keep them productive.

Summit stands to receive as much as $1.5 billion annually from the tax credits. The company said it has no plans to use CO2 in oil drilling, which is known as enhanced oil recovery, or EOR. But a carbon dioxide storage permit application drafted by Summit appears to leave open the potential for the CO2 to be used for that purpose.

“Our business model is for 100% sequestration,” the company said in an emailed response to questions. “No customers have ever approached us to move their CO2 for EOR.”

For several environmental and public interest groups, providing tax credits for more climate-polluting oil is a handout to oil drillers that upends the goal of weaning corporations and consumers off fossil fuels.

“It’s just not the right answer,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “You’re incentivizing the extension of the use of fossil fuels for many more years or decades to come.”

Burgum’s office declined a request to interview the governor for this story. He has hailed his state’s underground CO2 storage capacity as a “geologic jackpot.” North Dakota, according to Burgum, has the capacity to store 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide underground.

That message has been amplified by North Dakota’s mineral resources department, which has estimated CO2 can help extract billions more barrels of oil from the rich Bakken shale formation. The Bakken is a 200,000-square-mile deposit that spans North Dakota, Montana and southern Canada.

Pipeline blowback

In North Dakota, the blowback to the Summit project has been intense, with Burgum caught in the crossfire.

There are fears a pipeline rupture would unleash a lethal cloud of CO2. In 2020, a pipeline carrying compressed carbon dioxide ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi. At least 45 people required hospital treatment and 200 more had to be evacuated from the area, according to the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety.

Summit said the CO2 line in Mississippi may have contained high amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas. Its system will transport nearly pure carbon dioxide, the company said, and any hydrogen sulfide or other elements in the stream “will not be considered impactful.”

Landowners also worry their property values will plummet if the pipeline passes under their property. And they’re outraged over what they allege are hardball tactics employed by Summit to secure easements for the project.

Burgum has largely avoided the dicey subject of eminent domain. If landowners don’t want the pipeline on their property, he’s said, the route can be shifted, and someone else can get the “big check.”

Julia Stramer, whose family owns cropland in Emmons County and opposes the pipeline, said the amount of money Summit offered her for a 99-year easement was insulting.

“I have informed Gov. Burgum that we have not received an offer of ‘the big check,’” she told North Dakota's Public Service Commission earlier this month.

Stramer scoffed at the safety measures Summit says it is taking, telling the commission the pipeline is to be buried only 4 feet deep.

“We bury people deeper than that,” Stramer said.

Kurt Swenson and his family own or have an interest in 1,750 acres at or near the proposed CO2 storage site. At a public hearing earlier this month on Summit's storage permit application, Swenson said he had a warning for anyone who attempts to take his land without his consent.

“It seems like everybody wants what isn’t theirs,” Swenson said. “You’re going to end up taking it from my cold, dead hands. And you’re going to see how that works out for you.”

Summit said it has signed easement deals with landowners along 82% of the pipeline’s route in North Dakota and obtained 92% of the lease agreements needed at the storage site. The company added that the project also is supported by state lawmakers and emergency managers.

Concerns over Summit’s project in North Dakota’s second most populous county, Burleigh, led the county commission to approve an ordinance restricting the pipeline from running too close to residential areas, churches and schools.

“I have not gotten one single contact from anybody that’s not affiliated with Summit asking me to support this pipeline,” said Brian Bitner, the Burleigh County Commission chairman. “Every contact has asked me to oppose it.”

Gaylen Dewing, who has worked as a farmer and rancher near Bismarck for more than 50 years, criticized Burgum for what he sees as the governor’s tilt to the left. Burgum’s embrace of carbon neutrality has put the governor in cahoots with the “Green New Deal people,” he said.

“Although he professes to be a conservative, he is anything but when it comes to environmental issues,” Dewing said.

Not a climate warrior

When he’s out stumping for Trump, Burgum doesn’t sound at all like a climate warrior.

Speaking at the North Carolina Republican Party Convention last month, Burgum accused the Biden administration of trying to shut down the oil and gas industries and declared that Trump would reverse the federal rules and mandates that he said are stifling energy companies.

Trump has long criticized federal and state efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and has been backed by the oil and gas industry in his three presidential bids. The former president, who in the past called global warming a “hoax,” claims on his campaign website that Biden has surrendered to the “crazed climate crusaders.”

Oil and gas interests have already donated nearly $8 million to Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, according to the political money website Open Secrets.

Burgum, with his close ties to his state’s dominant industry, is the type of running mate who could help boost such donations.

If Burgum is not selected to be the GOP's vice-presidential nominee and does not take a job in a second Trump administration, he can always return to North Dakota to finish out his last term, with key decisions looming for the pipeline.

___

Lardner reported from Washington.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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