Critics See Danger in CO2 Pipelines: 'Zombie' Leaks

'The Lever' looks at safety concerns after two leaks led to scary symptoms for residents
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2024 12:55 PM CDT
Critics See Danger in CO2 Pipelines: 'Zombie' Leaks
Carbon dioxide pipelines are becoming more common, and critics worry about safety issues.   (AP Photo/Jack Dura, file)

Part of the White House plan to fight climate change involves the construction of carbon dioxide pipelines across the country—part of an experimental "carbon capture and storage" strategy. In short, the idea is "aimed at sequestering carbon emissions from power plants, sending it through pipelines, and injecting it underground," explains the Lever. But after two recent CO2 pipeline leaks that left people "zombie-like," advocates are ringing the alarm over such pipelines near communities. The Lever digs into the issue by highlighting a 2020 pipeline rupture in Satartia, Mississippi, along with a more recent leak this April in Sulphur, Louisiana. Satartia's pipeline caused mass asphyxiation as a cloud of carbon filled the air, with 50 people hospitalized while hundreds evacuated.

"They found me, my cousin, and my brother unconscious, with foam coming out our mouths," DeEmmeris Burns, who was out fishing near Satartia, told the Louisiana Illuminator. "They thought we were dead." Emergency responders in Sulphur said they had not seen protocol prior to the leaks, which create unique conditions like traffic stalls, because cars need oxygen to burn gas. As advocates for the projects lobby in Washington to start them quickly, environmental and public advocacy groups are demanding strong guardrails and safety measures, including:

  • odorants added to the scentless gas so people can detect leaks
  • mandatory training for local emergency personnel with stronger coordination between pipeline operators
  • "dispersion modeling" that demonstrates how CO2 moves, allowing for swifter response
  • limitations on contaminants that cause corrosion that can lead to leaks
  • regulations for transporting gaseous and liquid carbon dioxide

"You've got communities, NGOs on pipeline safety, governmental experts on pipeline safety, all raising alarm about the hazards of what is being planned," Monique Harden of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice tells the Lever. "What you don't have is the response of protection or response that validates those concerns." Today, the US has 5,000 miles of pipeline, but the industry, spurred on by tax incentives, hopes to lay down 96,000 more miles—which by the Lever's calculations could wrap around the globe four times, while only storing about 15% of the world's carbon dioxide. Read the full story. (Scientists look at 'once-unthinkable' ways we can cool the planet.)

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