NOTE: I am truly blessed to have many Indigenous friends, many who are involved in the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), including the founder Sikowis Nobiss. As a White person I’ve tried hard to learn how to appropriately engage with my friends. I’ve made mistakes.
I’ve written a lot about my experiences, hoping other White people might benefit.
This is a continuation of a series of posts related to The Great Carbon Boondoggle report about proposed carbon pipelines in the Midwest, and the resistance to them.
The first paragraph of the following section of the report highlights the environmental racism common to pipeline projects in this country. The original route of the Dakota Access pipeline was changed after the people of Bismarck, North Dakota raised concerns about the impact on their drinking water. The new route was near the Standing Rock Reservation.
Environmental racism is one of the reasons Des Moines Black Liberation Collective is part of the Buffalo Rebellion. (See: bit.ly/3PL3G79)
INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES RISE TO RESIST THE PIPELINE
The proposed route for Summit’s pipeline will pass near several Native American reservations and cities with high Indigenous populations across the Midwest. This has sparked massive resistance from frontline communities, all too familiar with the devastation these projects bring. While the landowners’ opposition has garnered most of the media coverage, Indigenous groups are firmly against the pipeline. Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), a non-profit advocating for Indigenous communities throughout the Midwest, opposes the Midwest Carbon Express, stating it “only serves the interests of the fossil fuel industry.” GPAS is working alongside area tribes, including the Ho-chunk (Winnebago) and Umonhon (Omaha) Nations, to mobilize against the project.
On June 2, 2022, the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska — which has reservations in Dakota County, Nebraska, and Woodbury County, Iowa — requested that the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the two counties, conduct independent environmental impact studies of the pipeline. The request was filed given Summit’s proposed pipeline route comes near their land and the Missouri River. On October 6, 2022, the IUB denied the request, stating, “IUB will consider specific environmental issues raised by the IUB and the parties in the Summit Carbon docket as part of the public evidentiary hearing and in consideration of whether to grant Summit Carbon a hazardous liquid pipeline permit.”  The decision follows the precedent set by the IUB in 2015 during approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline, where the regulatory body found “no explicit legal requirement, in statute or in rules, for an independent environmental impact report as a part of the permit proceeding.” The Great Carbon Boondoggle, Inside the Struggle to Stop Summit’s CO2 Pipeline, The Oakland Institute
The IUB’s rejection of an independent environmental impact study on the project has heightened fears of the devastation that would occur in the event of a pipeline rupture. According to the Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, in the case of a rupture, “extremely cold liquid CO2 forms a cloud that settles on the ground and displaces oxygen — potentially sickening or killing people and animals for miles around and rendering internal combustion engines inoperable.” 
In February 2020, a carbon pipeline in Yazoo County, Mississippi, exploded and immediately impacted residents of the nearby small town of Sartia. Just minutes after the explosion, people passed out up to three quarters of a mile away from the pipeline. “I thought I was gonna die,” said Linda Garrett, a Sartia resident.  The explosion led to 45 people being hospitalized and the evacuation of 300 residents. Following the rupture, the Yazoo County Emergency Management Agency Director, who oversaw the response effort, warned, “We got lucky…If the wind blew the other way, if it’d been later when people were sleeping, we would have had deaths.” 
For some Winnebago tribe members, the question is not if the pipeline will rupture but when. “Pipelines break all the time as you are putting manmade material against Mother Nature, something we cannot control.”  A rupture could be catastrophic, especially if it occurred near tribal lands with limited response resources. “I like to think we are resourceful on the reservation but when the pipeline breaks, how are we going to be able to get people the help that they need? We don’t have the capacity as first responders and emergency personnel to protect our people in that situation.” 
Given the lack of experience dealing with large-scale carbon pipeline ruptures, even larger urban areas are currently unprepared, as they lack the necessary special equipment and emergency response training.  With majority of the Indigenous people living outside the reservation land and in nearby cities that will be near the proposed pipeline route, they too will be in danger in case of a rupture. Sikowis Nobiss, Executive Director for GPAS, also noted the danger a rupture will pose to farmworkers, “There are areas with large groups of migrant workers and it is doubtful they be given the necessary protective equipment in case of a pipeline rupture. So far, nobody is talking to them about this project and their communities are unaware of the dangers.”
Indigenous communities have also raised concerns with the project degrading the land and disturbing sacred ceremonial and burial sites. 
Indigenous communities, rightfully, are also sounding the alarm on the impact an influx of transient pipeline construction workers will have. In the past “man-camps” — built for out of state workers for large construction, fossil fuel, or natural resource extraction projects — have led to increased risk of violence towards Indigenous communities.  The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, corroborated, “Indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into Indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.” 
Calling for a “reduction and phasing out of fossil fuels as a wider part of a just transition,” GPAS challenges CCS projects like the Midwest Carbon Express for delaying necessary action. Sikowis Nobiss, Executive Director for GPAS, has called for necessary investments to restore prairie across Iowa and the Midwest. “The colonial capitalist model sees our prairie land as ‘empty trash’ when in fact restoring it would control erosion and sequester lots of carbon — solving many of the biggest issues caused by Big Ag.”  Indigenous communities have experience resisting past pipeline projects and are building from it in resisting Summit. “Carbon pipelines are nothing new to us. Standing Rock educated us on how to build power within our own communities — but not only that — it taught us how to build that resistance against the pipeline route,” said Etringer.  Mobilization of Indigenous communities against the project stems from a commitment to protect the land despite historical injustices. Sikowis Nobiss explained what is driving these efforts: “We continue to put aside the historical trauma we face to help protect stolen land… this hurts your head and your heart, but we continue to support this work.” 
Great Plains Action Society is firmly opposed to proposed carbon capture and sequestration or storage (CCS) projects (aka, CO2 Pipelines) such as Summit’s Midwest Carbon Express, Navigator’s Heartland Greenway, and Wolf Carbon Solutions’ ADM pipelines. The reasons for our opposition are numerous, however, our greatest concern is that CCS only serves the interests of the fossil fuel industry and that the government will sanction further land theft and harm to communities on Indigenous territories. Carbon capture and sequestration is by design a way to prolong the usage of fossil fuels while reducing CO2 emissions. Amidst this climate emergency, we must demand a reduction and phase out fossil fuels as a wider part of a just transition.
We are also concerned about intense water usage as drought and warmer temperatures are greatly affecting access to clean water. Fossil fuel companies have known that their products were contributing to climate change for over forty years and now they see CCS as a government bail-out with many governmental subsidies providing just the type of perverse incentive for CCS operators to manipulate the system. Additionally, there are the same concerns present with other pipeline projects in the area regarding degradation of the land, disturbance of sacred ceremonial and burial sites. CO2 pipelines are also dangerous because when they rupture, they can spread over 1300 ft in under 4 min making it impossible to breathe and for vehicles to drive. First responders are not at all prepared to deal with such a catastrophe and many have been pushing back C02 pipelines for this reason alone. Furthermore, Indigenous communities will inevitably face encroachment on to treaty land, including environmentally racist moves on behalf of individual states to make sure that CCS does not negatively affect wealthy, white communities with influential power.
CCS is greenwashing rather than a solution to the climate emergency that Iowans deserve, as Indigenous people, we remain committed to the water, the land, and the future generations of Iowans.
Here are some photos I’ve taken related to our Buffalo Rebellion’s carbon pipeline resistance.
35 Iowa Utilities Board. “IUB Addresses Request for Environmental Impact Study on Proposed Summit Carbon Solutions CO2 Pipeline.” Press Release. October 6, 2022.
36 Eller, D. “Iowa pipeline regulators reject tribe’s request for environmental impact study.” Des Moines Register, October 10, 2022.
37 Zegart, D et al. Fact Sheet: CO2 Pipeline Safety. Iowa Chapter Physicians for Social Responsibility, September 14, 2022.
38 Warden, B. “Residents near CO2 pipeline rupture in Mississippi share their story.” DakotaNewsNow, October 6, 2022.
39 Zegart, D. “The Gassing of Sartia.” HuffPost, August 26, 2021.
42 Direct communication with Trisha Etringer, Operations and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Director, Great Plains Action Society. October 11, 2022.
44 Iowa Sierra Club Chapter. “Carbon Pipelines: A Disaster Waiting to Happen.” Webinar. September 19, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K_w5VzBZ6s
45 Great Plains Action Society. “No CO2 Pipelines.”
49 Great Plains Action Society. “The Impact of CO2 Pipelines and ‘Mancamp Construction.” Webinar. September 19, 2022
50 Great Plains Action Society. “UN PFII Intervention on Man-Camps and Violence in Indigenous Communities.” May 3, 2019.
54 Direct communication with Sikowis Nobiss, Executive Director, Great Plains Action Society. October 13, 2022.
55 Direct communication with Trisha Etringer, Operations and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Director, Great Plains Action Society. October 11, 2022.
56 Direct communication with Sikowis Nobiss, Executive Director, Great Plains Action Society. October 13, 2022.
The Great Carbon Boondoggle
Publisher: The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). You are free to share, copy, distribute, and transmit this work under the following conditions:
Attribution: You must attribute the work to the Oakland Institute and its authors.
Non-Commercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
This report was authored by Andy Currier, Eve Devillers, and Frédéric Mousseau and draws from the previous Oakland Institute publication: The Midwest Carbon Express: A False Solution to the Climate Crisis.
Special thanks to the landowners and Indigenous community members who shared their experiences. Several remain anonymous to protect their identities
The Great Carbon Boondoggle, Inside the Struggle to Stop Summit’s CO2 Pipeline, The Oakland Institute