Infrastructure to support carbon capture and storage technology remains underdeveloped in the United States, leaving the country unprepared and behind in the adoption of a crucial tool in the fight against climate change. 

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan has been translated into a bipartisan infrastructure bill that could be voted on as soon as this week. The energy component to it, which just passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, devotes more than $12 billion in total toward carbon management technology.

It is the largest proposed investment into the commercialization of carbon capture technologies ever put forward by a single government.

It includes nearly $5 billion to support the buildout of C02 pipelines and regional geologic storage sites. The bulk of the rest of the funding goes toward supporting commercial demonstration of critical carbon capture technologies.

For this week’s KX Ag and Energy Insight, we explore how carbon capture is by and large one of very few climate-related issues that has bipartisan support in Congress, and what large-scale carbon capture development will mean for North Dakota’s energy and manufacturing industries.

Brad Crabtree is a North Dakota rancher who has worked intensively on the carbon management legislation in the energy component of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Crabtree is President of Carbon Management for the national Minneapolis-based organization Great Plains Institute. Crabtree also runs the Carbon Capture Coalition, which includes companies from coal, oil, and other industrial sectors, as well as unions and some environmental groups.

“Whenever we have built out infrastructure, the Federal government has played a role with private sector dollars in making it that happen. Once we capture the C02, we have to get it to where it has to be safely and permanently stored,” explains Crabtree.

Back in March, KX reported on Iowa-based Summer Carbon Solutions announcement of the company’s $2 billion plan to take C02 from at least 17 ethanol companies & other industries across the Midwest, and pipe it to North Dakota to be stored deep underground.

Clean Air Task Force International Director of Carbon Capture, Lee Beck, says Summit’s project characterizes exactly the type of project the energy legislation caters to. The SCALE Act will financially assist private companies with low-interest loans and grants to collect CO2 from multiple capture sources and deliver it to shared CO2 storage sites.

Beck explains it’s a chicken-and-egg challenge because CO2 transport and storage infrastructure must exist, or at least be certain to be built before CO2 capture projects can be committed. But the CO2 capture projects must also exist or be certain before the infrastructure can be committed.

“We want many C02 emitters; industrial facilities, ethanol plants to capture their carbon, but without them capturing their carbon we have little interest or little rationale for them investing in C02 transfer and storage, but without that infrastructure connecting them to storage, it’s really hard for emitters to capture their carbon, so this scale act would really solve that chicken and egg problem and help us scale up carbon capture and take it to the next level,” explains Beck.

But, not every organization devoted to tackling climate change is on board. Last week a coalition of hundreds of progressive environmental groups sent an open letter to President Joe Biden and Democratic Congressional Leaders demanding a rejection of carbon capture technology. U.S. Policy Director Natalie Mebane explains why the organization and hundreds of others agree investing further Federal and state subsidies into fossil fuels via carbon capture technology is the wrong path.

“350.ORG does not want fossil fuels to continue, in our economy globally, nationally, anywhere. Fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change and the idea that we are essentially going to negotiate how to continue to invest in the fossil fuel economy is not happening. We are at a point, and I’m sure you have witnessed and seen and the whole world is watching, the extreme climate impacts that we are experiencing right now,” explains Mebane. “We also need the political support of the state’s and communities that produce energy and manufacture industrial products. They contribute to our economy, and the workers they employ, and the communities they support can participate in being a part of the climate solution. So, if we want the entire country to embrace this challenge and support taking on climate change than we have to support technologies that allow them to sustain their livelihoods.”

When it comes to jobs, Mebane is right. It is known that the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. is wind turbine service technician, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, North Dakota is prime real estate for wind power. The Peace Garden State ranks 10th in the nation for wind power generation.

What also remains clear, is that the United States as a country is not ready to transition 100 percent off of fossil fuels. The political support to cut the cord on fossil fuels from states and communities that produce energy and manufacture industrial products is not there.

“Carbon Capture is a way that these industries and the workers they employ and the communities they support can participate in being a part of the climate solution if we want the entire country to embrace this challenge and support taking on climate change than we have to support technologies that allow them to sustain their livelihoods,” explains Crabtree.

For North Dakota, Carbon Capture ensures viability for the state’s energy economies as markets increasingly demand lower carbon fuel standards.

Furthermore, North Dakota is uniquely positioned to be at the center of the coming infrastructure revolution because of our ideal geology; deep porous rocks and overlying cap rock layers that seal the C02 in storage zones.

The government will play a major role in financing and supporting carbon capture’s bipartisan support is evidence that policymakers are prepared to pair carbon capture and storage technologies with other clean and renewable technologies.

“From a resource perspective, we need to invest in all clean energy technologies. It can’t be an either-or at this point in time, by the 2030’s we’ll have to invest $4 trillion dollars every year globally to really transform our energy infrastructure and get on a path to net-zero emissions, and so from our perspective, we need to make sure we’re investing and commercializing these technologies today along with a range of other technologies,” explained Beck.

Beck went on to further explain that carbon capture technology is a way to keep productive assets alive to create regional and economic opportunities.

KX covered the sale of Coal Creek Station to Rainbow Energy Center in June, and explored carbon capture played a central role in the acquisition and Governor Doug Burgum’s goal for North Dakota to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.