Gov. Doug Burgum’s goal for North Dakota to become carbon neutral by 2030 has garnered national attention. His commitment recognizes the opportunity to reduce regional carbon emissions and to capitalize on North Dakota geologic resources, skilled workforce, and industry know-how.
North Dakota is strategically positioned to lead in carbon management through large-scale capture, transport and secure geologic storage of carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sectors, while facilitating further development of abundant renewable energy. The state can leverage its pioneering carbon capture experience at Dakota Gasification and extraordinary geologic potential to store CO2 from its own industries and others around the region.
Realizing this vision will enable the Upper Midwest’s ethanol and fertilizer producers, refiners and gas processors to reduce their carbon footprint and supply expanding markets for low-carbon fuels in California and elsewhere. Retrofitting power plants with carbon capture would also meet a growing regional need for dispatchable 24/7 zero-carbon electricity to support further addition of renewable energy on the grid. Finally, Burgum’s initiative creates an opportunity to protect family-supporting jobs by enlisting local boilermakers, pipefitters, laborers and other skilled workers to halt climate change.
The climate imperative for carbon management is clear. We must reduce CO2 emissions to zero by midcentury to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The International Energy Agency projects that 8.6 billion tons of annual emissions reductions are needed globally from carbon capture by 2050, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that attempting to reach net-zero without carbon capture will increase costs by nearly 140 percent, unnecessarily burdening residential and business customers.
The business case for carbon capture grows by the day. Companies are committing to achieve net-zero emissions—not just green tech firms, but industrial heavyweights, too. Private investors are driving change. Companies and industries failing to adopt net-zero business models risk losing access to capital.
The economic development case is also strong. Recent modeling by the Great Plains Institute (GPI) and partners reveals North Dakota’s potential to become a regional carbon hub, attracting investment in carbon capture, CO2 pipelines and future geologic storage that serve Midwestern ethanol producers, power plants, refineries and other industries. A regional project has been announced to build a CO2 transport network across the Upper Midwest and manage ten million tons of emissions annually by harnessing North Dakota’s vast geologic storage capacity.
GPI recently commissioned the Rhodium Group to analyze the economic impacts of carbon capture. The study identifies cost-effective carbon capture opportunities at eight power, ethanol and gas processing plants in North Dakota and estimates that retrofitting these facilities would result in nearly 1,300 construction jobs each year between now and 2035, over 650 ongoing operations jobs, and $6.3 billion in net investment, while capturing over 18 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. That’s on top of the potential to preserve current high-wage jobs and tax base by keeping existing operations viable in a net-zero economy.
The benefits of carbon capture are proven. A dozen large-scale facilities operate in the U.S. today across multiple industries, capturing and storing nearly 25 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Unfortunately, federal policy has provided far less support for carbon capture than for other clean energy technologies, despite it comparing favorably on a cost-per-ton basis for reducing emissions.
Fortunately, there is growing momentum in Washington for change. Members of the North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations have played a leading role in bipartisan legislation to expand and improve the 45Q credit for carbon capture and to provide low-interest federal financing and grants for development of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure. Leading climate advocates in Congress also support these bills, and President Biden has included comparable provisions in his American Jobs Plan.
Burgum is right to catalyze action by setting an ambitious goal for carbon neutrality that relies on economywide deployment of carbon capture, transport and storage. Industry and environmental advocates alike should embrace it.
Brad Crabtree, of Ashley, is vice president for carbon management at the Great Plains Institute and directs the national Carbon Capture Coalition. Kevin Pranis, of St. Paul, is Marketing Manager for the Laborers’ International Union of North America in Minnesota and North Dakota and serves on Minnesota Governor Walz’s Climate Advisory Council.