EPA Takes 1st Step To Approve ND Regulation Of Injection Wells

BISMARCK — The Environmental Protection Agency administrator announced Tuesday, May 9, he has signed a proposed rule that will allow North Dakota to regulate underground wells to store carbon dioxide, opening the door for new projects to reduce emissions.

The long-awaited step from the EPA puts North Dakota on track to become the first state to have regulatory authority over Class VI wells, or injection wells, that can store carbon dioxide deep underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Red Trail Energy, a natural gas-fired ethanol plant near Richardton, has been working with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota to develop ways to reduce the plant’s carbon footprint.

The facility releases 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, which CEO Gerald Bachmeier said could potentially be captured and injected into an underground storage well.

Red Trail Energy, an ethanol plant near Richardton, N.D., is pictured Saturday, May 6, 2017. The facility has been researching the potential of Class VI wells for underground carbon dioxide storage. Sydney Mook / Forum News Service

But currently companies would have to follow a permitting process and regulations from both the state of North Dakota and the EPA.

Overlapping and redundant state and federal regulations have discouraged companies from pursuing carbon dioxide storage projects, said Kevin Connors, supervisor of the carbon capture and storage program for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission proposes to oversee the wells, using state regulations that are as stringent as federal rules that protect underground drinking water sources.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement that North Dakotans “know better than anyone the needs of their environment, economy and communities.”

If the EPA gives final approval, following a 60-day public comment period, North Dakota regulators could begin regulating the carbon dioxide storage wells.

Carbon capture and storage technology has huge potential for North Dakota, where coal-fired generation facilities emit about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, said John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships at the EERC.

“Because that carbon dioxide is so compressible, we can ultimately put pretty large volumes of carbon dioxide into tiny pores in the subsurface,” Harju said.

The injection wells would be constructed in a similar manner as oil and gas wells, with surface casing designed to protect underground water sources, he said.

“North Dakota is very fortunate to have very good geology for this,” Harju said.

North Dakota began working on this set of regulations in 2008 when Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was the state’s governor and established a workgroup to study the issue. The state’s application was submitted to the EPA in 2013 and was in the office of former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy since July 2014.

The Obama administration talked about clean coal technology but the EPA never gave North Dakota a reason why it hadn’t taken action on the application, Hoeven said Tuesday.

“We think it’s because, frankly, they wanted to phase out coal,” Hoeven said.

A states-first regulatory approach gives the energy industry the certainty it needs to develop new technologies for storing carbon dioxide, he said.

“This is how we’re going to advance the technology for carbon capture and storage and actually do it versus just talk about it,” Hoeven said.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also pushed for the EPA to approve the state’s application.

“With the state’s expert staff and long history of leading environmental programs, it only makes sense for them to take over as the primary regulator of carbon capture regulations,” Cramer said in a statement. “The announcement today is a victory for our state, and I’m grateful for the Administrator Pruitt’s swift action on this request.”

Heitkamp, who secured a commitment from Pruitt last week to visit North Dakota in the future, said the EPA approval will provide certainty for companies to move forward.

“North Dakota can lead the country in developing technology to help reduce carbon emissions while also building a viable path forward for traditional sources of energy — and that’s long been my goal,” Heitkamp said.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a member of the state’s Industrial Commission, said in a statement the technology “helps ensure the viability of the state’s coal and power industries, enhances the economics of our renewable energy resources, and allows for future utilization of the stored carbon dioxide in enhanced recovery of oil and gas resources.”

For more information, including how to submit comments to the EPA, visit the agency’s website.

Red Trail Energy, an ethanol plant near Richardton, N.D., is pictured Saturday, May 6, 2017. The facility has been researching the potential of Class VI wells for underground carbon dioxide storage. Sydney Mook / Forum News Service

1 Response

  1. Schurkey

    Wow. What an astounding waste of money. At least it won’t accomplish anything useful.

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