Former federal regulator talks about carbon pipeline regulation

ALGONA — A former acting administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says carbon capture pipelines are not new and will be regulated like any other liquid pipeline.

Brigham  McCown recently served a couple of years as chief executive of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries oil. “We’ve had CO2 pipelines in the country since the 1970s,” he says. “There are about 4,500 miles of CO2 pipelines currently.” McCown says the federal agency that regulates pipelines has the same mission as the Federal Aviation Administration, to make the transportation system as safe as possible.

“The safety regulations are very robust and CO2 is treated as a liquid pipeline just like any other liquid pipeline,” McCown says. “…When pipelines are built by qualified people, they’re constructed properly and they’re maintained properly they have a 99.999% safety record. That’s better than any other type of transportation and you are far more likely to be struck by lightning multiple times than you are ever to be ever be affected by a pipeline incident.”

Pipeline opponents cite safety concerns about liquid carbon and point to the 2020 rupture of a carbon pipeline in Mississippi. That incident sent 45 people to the hospital and required the evacuation of about 200 nearby residents. McCown says regulations were beefed up after that incident and the pipeline operator was fined. “In that case, very unusual rainfall occurred and it’s called a geohazard. It’s something pipeline operators are supposed to plan for, but the ground shifted and that caused the pipeline to break open,” McCown says.

Supporters of three proposed carbon pipeline projects in Iowa say they will allow the ethanol industry to remain competitive in the years to come, as requirements for a carbon neutral product are put in place. Opponents object to the use of the government’s eminent domain authority to seize private property from landowners who do not want the pipelines on their property.