Summit’s Carbon Pipeline Spurs Oil Recovery Debate

The Duality of Carbon Capture

by Victor Adetimilehin

Summit Carbon Solutions is at the forefront of an ambitious $5.5 billion project, promising to create the United States’ largest carbon dioxide capture pipeline. This venture aims to transport and bury 18 million metric tons of CO2 annually from 57 Midwest ethanol plants. While the company has publicly committed to using this project solely for carbon sequestration, internal communications reveal a different narrative for the oil sector in North Dakota, suggesting the pipeline could serve for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) if the price is right.

Ethanol vs. Oil: A Balancing Act

The project seeks to lower the carbon footprint of ethanol production, aligning with state and federal incentives for cleaner fuel. However, the oil industry, particularly in North Dakota’s Bakken region, eyes this pipeline as a means to rejuvenate its declining output through EOR. This method, which injects CO2 into oil fields to boost production, has piqued the interest of many in the oil sector, despite Summit’s outward stance against such uses. The North Dakota Petroleum Council sees this as a significant opportunity for the long-term revival of the state’s oil fortunes.

Public Pledges vs. Private Promises

Despite its public declarations against EOR, Summit has signaled a willingness to cater to the oil industry’s desires behind closed doors. At a December event, executive vice president Wade Boeshans hinted at the company’s openness to transporting CO2 for oil production if demand arises. This dual messaging has drawn criticism and raised questions about the project’s true intentions. Environmental groups, already wary of EOR’s implications for fossil fuel dependency, are closely watching these developments.

The Future of Carbon Capture and EOR

As Summit navigates regulatory hurdles and landowner opposition, the broader discussion centers on the role of carbon capture in combating climate change versus its potential exploitation for furthering oil production. North Dakota’s oil production, though peaked in late 2019, could see a resurgence with CO2 importation for EOR, according to energy experts. Yet, Summit’s focus remains officially on carbon sequestration, spurred by the financial incentives of the 45Q tax credit program. A policy shift, however, could pivot the company’s and the industry’s approach toward EOR, highlighting the complex interplay between environmental stewardship and economic interests.

As this story unfolds, the debate over carbon capture’s dual use cases underscores the complexities of transitioning to a cleaner energy future while addressing the immediate needs of traditional energy sectors. Summit’s project represents a critical junction in this journey, with potential implications for both carbon reduction efforts and the revival of the oil industry in North Dakota and beyond.

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