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EPA approves construction permit for controversial carbon storage project

An aerial view of Wabash Valley Resources LLC in Terre Haute along the Wabash River.
Courtesy of Google Maps
More than 1,000 residents have come out against Wabash Valley Resources' carbon storage project. Among other things, they’re concerned about the potential for pipeline leaks and earthquakes, and that the CO2 could migrate.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a permit for construction on a controversial project to store carbon emissions underground in Vigo and Vermillion counties.

The permit will allow Wabash Valley Resources to secure financing for the project and start construction on the injection wells. Vice President of External Affairs Greg Zoeller said that includes federal grants as well as private investors.

Wabash Valley can’t actually start storing CO2 until the EPA inspects those injection wells. The company hopes to accomplish all of that this year.

Zoeller said the ability to make low-carbon fertilizer at the plant will open up opportunities for Indiana’s corn growers.

“So currently, we're unable to sell our corn — even our ethanol, can't get into the markets of California, of Japan and places that require low carbon scores in order to sell your product," he said.

More than 1,000 residents have come out against the project. Among other things, they’re concerned about the potential for pipeline leaks and earthquakes, and that the CO2 could migrate.

READ MORE: Company hoping to store carbon emissions wants to ease residents' concerns — it hasn't worked yet

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Six historical earthquakes have happened roughly 31 miles from the injection well sites since the early 1900s.

Kerwin Olson is the executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition. While the company has done testing in the area, he said it hasn’t done in-depth geologic or seismic testing at the specific injection well sites yet — something the EPA said could happen during the construction phase.

“Before we issue these types of permits and this authority to construct and move forward, one would think we would want to understand — is there any seismic risk? You know, what's going on out there? And wouldn’t we want to make sure that the geology where this is going to be stored is indeed suitable," Olson said.

The EPA said that the CO2 injection is unlikely to cause an earthquake or that seismic activity could let the emissions escape.

The fact that this is relatively new territory for the U.S. also concerns residents and the CAC. Only one other project in Decatur, Illinois, has received permits to store CO2 from the federal government so far and nearly three times as much could be stored at Wabash Valley.

The EPA said it will continue to answer residents' questions, but that there will be no formal public comment period before Wabash Valley Resources starts injecting CO2.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.