Family farmers worry about future as BP plans to store CO2 underground (2024)

Noe PadillaLafayette Journal & Courier

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Standing on the top of her family’s grain bin, Lana L. Wallpe gestures toward the hundreds of acres that she and her husband have been cultivating for years, which they worry is at risk.

Their concern started on Thanksgiving of 2022.

With her turkey in the oven that day, Wallpe noticed a large, "seismic reflection survey truck" begin to roll down her road and shake the ground beneath her house.

The truck was the beginning of the process to collect data and determine whether the subterranean land beneath this region of Indiana could be used for the long-term storage of carbon dioxide, in a process called carbon capture or sequestration.

At the time, Wallpe and many in the community didn’t know what was going on. More importantly, they didn’t realize this moment would mark the beginning of a multi-year battle to learn why the oil company BP wanted to use Benton County's subterranean land.

BP and other companies have targeted specific spots in rural Indiana with geological qualities that would allow them to bury and trap the dangerous byproducts of their industries. But some residents and public officials are worried about the lack of oversight and possible long-term consequences.

“There’s just so much unknown,” said Wallpe, farmer and president of the Benton County Farm Bureau.

“If for some reason there was a contamination and it leaked into our ground and made all of our crops worthless," she said, "I mean, the health of this ground is important not just for our future, but our family’s future.”

BP refinery’s Project Crossroads

In early 2023, BP announced plans to turn its 133-year-old oil refinery plant in Whiting, Indiana, into a new hydrogen hub as part of a national clean hydrogen network.

But current hydrogen fuel production methods are heavily reliant on fossil fuels to create clean hydrogen fuel, which leads to a significant amount of carbon dioxide being created per hydrogen produced, according to a study published by MIT.

In hopes of combating this issue and staying in line with the nation’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accords to reduce the nation’s overall carbon emissions, the company has developed plans to create a carbon capture and storage facility in northwest Indiana.

BP Carbon Solutions proposed a plan titled Project Crossroads, which would see the company transport up to 23 million metric tons of CO2 per year to multiple CO2 storage facilities throughout Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

BP has already conducted seismic surveying tests to ensure that none of the locations it is considering for its Indiana CO2 storage facilities are near a fault line. Those surveyed locations are in Benton, Jasper and White counties.

BP, whose officials did not respond to a request for updated information, notes on its website that these locations are of high interest to the company because of the already existing infrastructure put in place from the Whiting Refinery to the Fowler Ridge Wind, but more importantly because of the regions’ subterranean geologic formations that are ideally suited for securely and permanently storing captured CO2.

Doug Schmitt, associate head, professor, and Stephen and Karen Brand Endowed Chair of Unconventional Energy at Purdue University, said one of the reasons companies and governments around the world have been investing in carbon capture and storage projects is because of their dependability in permanently capturing CO2 compared to other methods.

“There’s carbon credits, those are not seen as very dependable, because if you plant a tree in the forest and then it burns down in 20 years, you’re no further ahead,” Schmitt said. “A lot of the larger companies, they want what’s more dependable. If they’re paying and they have a liability for that CO2, they want it gone forever.”

Science behind carbon capture and sequestration

BP and other companies have begun to consider the western portion of Indiana for their future carbon sequestration because it is equipped with the ideal subterranean geologic formations for carbon storage, Schmitt said.

Deep beneath the surface are layers of porous, brine-filled sandstone that sit above saline water trapped in the ground. These layers exist usually about ¾ miles beneath the surface and far away from fresh groundwater.

Millions of years ago, geological conditions created a geological layer that contains the ideal conditions for carbon storage, including hair-thin pores in the sandstone, he said.

“What you’ve got on top of it, which is another good thing about the geology here, is that there is a thick impermeable rock. Fluids aren’t going to be going through it very easily,” Schmitt said. “The idea is to bury it deep in the Earth, deep enough that it’s away and it’s going to be put away forever, aside from potential risks of leakage.”

Once the carbon is injected into the reservoir, it will expand throughout the area, creating a CO2 plume, which can vary in size depending on the layout of a reservoir. Research indicates that it could range from 3 to 20 square miles.

Because of the depth, it’s unlikely that the carbon will ever escape from the facilities, unless there’s a leak because of old, poorly tapped boreholes or unforeseen seismic activity, Schmitt said.

In the scenarios where the carbon can rest undisturbed, Schmitt emphasized it will theoretically react in one of three ways: Either the carbon will become trapped within the pores of the sandstone, dissolve into the saline brine, or react to the condition within the reservoirs and form into new materials.

Schmitt believes there’s huge potential to address carbon emissions if companies use these deep saline layers. He believes that the Illinois Basin region, which is a large subterranean region that touches parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois, could potentially hold up to 150 gigatonnes of CO2 within it.

The Purdue professor noted the long-term effects of CO2 storage are theoretically safe. However, there's a risk of damage to or destroyed surface equipment associated with the storage process.

Schmitt noted the lack of long-term research into the above-ground consequences of a subterranean leak but said he believes such a scenario is unlikely.

Therein lies much of the concern that farmers within Benton County and across Indiana have with BP’s carbon capture project: What will happen to their farmland if something goes wrong?

'Farmers are stewards of the land'

The idea of integrating new forms of technologies does not scare most farmers in Benton County, Wallpe said.

She noted that Benton County has always been open to new technologies. Benton was one of the first counties in Indiana to install wind turbines on its farms.

But this project has been received differently.

When BP initially came into town, many were unaware of what the company was planning. Information about the project and the process of carbon capture and sequestration was initially hard to find.

After BP held information meetings, the scope of the project became clear. People learned that it would affect about 6,000 acres of land for 20 years, Stephen Wallpe said.

This is in large part because of the CO2 plume that will be created once the company begins its CO2 sequestration project.

In those info sessions, residents attempted to find answers to many of their questions, such as how this carbon storage project would affect their farmland, the mineral rights beneath their properties and overall safety concerns.

People had learned about a CO2 pipeline explosion in 2020, which forced people to move from rural communities in Mississippi after 45 people were hospitalized from CO2 poisoning.

A BP representative reassured people that this situation is unlikely to happen in Indiana, but people are still concerned, Stephen Wallpe said.

Since those initial meetings, the possible long-term effects still weigh heavily.

“We as farmers always look forward. How are we going to leave our land better for the next generation?" Wallpe said. "So, maybe we don’t see any problem with this now, but we are worried about the next generation.

“What if we mess up? They will have to pay for our mistakes.”

Non-disclosure contracts among farmers

Another pressing issue is how BP has been attempting to secure the land needed to move forward.

Over the last year and a half, Jon Charlesworth, agriculture and natural resource educator with Purdue Extension in Benton County, has been informing people about the project and the law.

In 2022, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1209, which created a statewide framework regarding CO2 injection wells.

This legislation gave the Department of Natural Resources the authority to issue a permit approving an operator to inject CO2, but only if the company is able to receive consent that at least 70 percent of property owners in the affected region approve of the company’s plans to use their subterranean land for carbon storage.

“They would only need to get 70 percent of that acreage under contract. But the other 30 percent ... just gets taken by essentially eminent domain," Charlesworth said, "even though they don’t call it eminent domain.”

But the law says companies would still need to provide compensation to property owners even if they weren’t a part of the original 70 percent.

In hopes of accomplishing its goal, BP started offering contracts that would outline a certain price the company is willing to pay on an annual basis to use their land over a 20-year period, Charlesworth said.

However, after reviewing some contracts, Charlesworth is concerned that some of the landowners might be receiving relatively low amounts for the risk that they would be taking.

Farmers who do ultimately agree to sign with BP are forced to sign non-disclosure contracts. Charlesworth said requiring property owners to sign these NDAs ultimately hurts the community’s overall negotiating power to determine a fair price for the land use.

“I know some of the concerns that I’ve heard from people in the county is about land ownership. It bothers me a little bit that it’s going to be people that own lands that have some say in it and people who own very little land won’t really have a way to negotiate,” he said.

The law also says companies are required to receive Class VI wells from the EPA, which are mandatory for any company hoping to inject CO2 into subterranean surfaces.

The EPA sets standards that companies need to meet in order to qualify for a Class VI permit, which require specific well siting and construction, operation and maintenance, monitoring and testing, reporting and recordkeeping, site closure, financial responsibility, and post-injection site care.

But the EPA does allow individual states to change certain requirements for companies to meet the requirements.

In Indiana, companies are required to maintain the operation of their long-term project. But House Enrolled Act 1209 notes that once a company is complete with its CO2 sequestration injection project, it will no longer be responsible for it. Then the responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the reservoir site will be handed off to the DNR to manage going forward.

During the period in which companies are pumping CO2 into reservoirs, they will be required to pay the state about 8 cents per ton of CO2 estimated to be injected into a storage facility.

“They basically just want to shove it into the ground, and they think it’s going to be done,” Stephen Wallpe said about the law. “But my big concern is: After 20 years they turn it over to the state and DNR. If there is a problem, like a leak or any kind of problem, then it goes back to the state to take care of. BP is no longer responsible.”

What’s next for BP’s project?

With opposition growing since Thanksgiving of 2022, the Wallpes noted that BP has been relatively quiet.

Although BP conducted a seismic reflection survey of the region in 2022 and 2023, the full survey has yet to be released to the public.

In late 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it would provide BP Carbon Solutions a total of $98,240,569 in federal money to support the company’s “Project Crossroads: Appraising Storage Facilities to Decarbonize Northern Indiana, Northeastern Illinois, and Southwestern Michigan” project.

Indiana will also be investing about $39 million in non-Department of Energy funds to meet the overall cost of the project, which is expected to be about $138 million.

Shortly after the announcement in 2023, U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.) praised the news that Indiana will receive federal money for this project and reaffirmed northwest Indiana’s position as “a leader in creating new clean energy jobs and technologies.”

As concerns regarding BP's project continued to grow louder in Benton County, leaders in surrounding counties began to notice the issue and started to draft legislation that would address some of their own concerns dealing with CO2 storage.

Tippecanoe County commissioner Dave Byers recently said the county is working on some legislation aimed at protecting farmers' land that becomes the target of the state or companies looking to install pipelines through them.

The inspiration for this legislation stemmed from the county's own experience dealing with the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace project, in which state officials have proposed sending millions of gallons of water to a development in another part of the state, as well as the recent experiences of farmers in Benton County with BP's project.

Ultimately, he said, as BP's project and similar carbon storage projects continue to move forward, residents and local officials around the state are watching what's happening in Benton County.

Family farmers worry about future as BP plans to store CO2 underground (2024)


What happens when CO2 is stored underground? ›

Keeping the lid on CO2 stored underground

Over time, the CO2 trapped in reservoirs will often begin to chemically react with the minerals of the surrounding rock. The elements bind to create solid, chalky minerals, essentially locking the CO2 into the rock in a process called 'mineral storage'.

Is storing carbon in the ground safe? ›

Carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored underground as a supercritical fluid. Supercritical CO2 means that the CO2 is at a temperature in excess of 31.1°C (88ºF) and a pressure in excess of 72.9 atm (about 1,057 psi); this temperature and pressure defines the critical point for CO2.

What is the best solution for long term CO2 storage? ›

Options for carbon dioxide geologic storage include:
  • Oil and Gas Reservoirs (Enhanced Oil Recovery with Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Dioxide -EOR). ...
  • Deep Saline Formations. ...
  • Coal Beds. ...
  • Basalt formations and shale basins.

How can we store CO2? ›

'Unmineable' coal, which is coal that is too deep or difficult to mine, can be used to store CO2. The coal absorbs the CO2, provided the coal is permeable enough to allow CO2 to penetrate. During this process, the coal releases previously absorbed methane (CH4), which can then be recovered and used.

What is it called when you store carbon underground? ›

Geologic carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground geologic formations. The CO2 is usually pressurized until it becomes a liquid, and then it is injected into porous rock formations in geologic basins.

How does CO2 get underground? ›

First, CO2 dissolves in the in situ water. Once this occurs (over time scales of hundreds of years to thousands of years), the CO2- laden water becomes more dense and therefore sinks down into the formation (rather than rising toward the surface).

What are the disadvantages of storing carbon dioxide? ›

There are also environmental and health risks associated with carbon storage facilities, such as the escape of the carbon dioxide from the site, the displacement of groundwater, and seismic activity. Carbon dioxide can leak through permeable substances or man-made routes like abandoned drilling wells.

What absorbs CO2 fastest? ›

This biochemical reaction is the same for all plants, but the faster a plant grows, the more carbon dioxide it will use up per second. By that measure, bamboo might be the best at sucking up CO₂.

How long can CO2 be stored? ›

The CO2 must remain buried for at least 10,000 years to avoid the impacts on climate. One concern is that the dilute acid, formed when the stored CO2 dissolves in water present in the reservoir rocks, might corrode the rocks above and let the CO2 escape upwards.

What are the negative effects of carbon capture? ›

– Environmental Risks

Carbon capture and storage involves the injection of carbon dioxide into geological formations. While this can be an effective method for storing carbon dioxide, it also poses environmental risks, such as leakage or seepage into groundwater or the atmosphere.

What is the most common method of CO2 storage? ›

Storage in geological formations is the cheapest and most environmentally acceptable storage option for CO2. Geological Storage Options.

What absorbs CO2 at home? ›

Aloe Vera is categorized as one of the beneficial plants for air purification by NASA. This plant absorbs CO2 at night and also neutralizes the air effects of benzene and formaldehyde for that extra purity that your bedroom needs. Because of its small size, it is easy to keep aloe vera in any corner of your home.

What happens when carbon is buried? ›

Carbon sequestration is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, by capturing and storing it, contributing to climate change reduction. Soils can help to sequester carbon, capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and storing it as buried organic carbon.

What happens if carbon dioxide is trapped? ›

Hypercapnia, also known as hypercarbia, is a condition that occurs when a person has too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in their bloodstream. It can cause dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

How does CO2 affect groundwater? ›

In general, based on previous studies, pH, Eh and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) decrease, and the temperature, TDS, alkalinity and concentrations of most of the major and minor ions and some trace elements increase as a result of CO2 leakage into freshwater aquifers.

Does CO2 stay at ground level? ›

Carbon dioxide mixes evenly through the atmosphere. But the atmosphere as a whole is densest near the ground, so a cubic foot of air at ground level will contain more carbon dioxide molecules than a cubic foot of air high up in the sky.

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