Indiana panel advances bill giving broad liability protection to energy company

An Indiana House panel narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent an energy company from being sued if its plans to pump carbon emissions thousands of feet underground diminish the value of neighboring properties.

Wabash Valley Resources LLC wants to turn an old gasification plant near Terre Haute into a power plant that uses hydrogen to produce electricity.

In the process, it plans to capture and pump more than a million tons of carbon emissions underground each year.

The House Natural Resources Committee voted 7-5 to advance a bill that would prohibit anyone from recovering damages for the diminution of the value of their land due to “any perceived risk associated with the operation of the carbon sequestration pilot project.”

The bill, however, would allow property owners to sue if they suffered actual damage or suffered loss of use.

The House passed a similar measure last year, only to see it die in the Senate. But supporters say the legislation, House Bill 1249, would catapult Indiana into the ranks of green-energy states.

“This bill is all about clean hydrogen energy, bringing it to the state of Indiana,” said Rep. David Abbott, Republican from Rome City. “We have a great opportunity here, with this pilot project.”

Wabash Valley Resources said it expects to secure a permit this summer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to drill wells to inject the carbon emissions more than 5,000 feet underground.

It expects to begin work this fall to construct a plant that will turn corn silage and waste plastics into hydrogen power that can produce electricity.

Nalin Gupta, one of the company’s board members, said the project has received support from the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as federal lawmakers from both parties.

He said the federal infrastructure bill, recently passed by Congress, provides $9.4 billion for hydrogen demonstration projects, and $120 billion for carbon capture projects. Wabash Valley Resources plans to compete for that money, he said.

“Having this bill in place would make us very, very competitive,” he said.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce supported the bill.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources opposed the bill, saying it would give the company extremely broad liability protection not available to any other companies.

The Hoosier Environmental Council said it doesn’t necessarily oppose capturing and storing carbon emissions underground. “But in this instance, there is just a lot we just don’t know about the project and its impacts,” said Tim Maloney, the council’s senior policy director. “To be offering some kind of liability protection is just not warranted.”

The bill was also opposed by the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the NAACP.

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana said the bill would provide near-blanket immunity for the potential problems related to the underground storage of carbon dioxide.

“It’s a bridge too far,” said Kerwin Olson, the coalition’s executive director.

The panel also passed a companion bill, HB 1209, that provides broad mechanisms for regulating underground storage of carbon dioxide in Indiana, by a vote of 10-2.

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6 thoughts on “Indiana panel advances bill giving broad liability protection to energy company

  1. another question what information do they have to lead them to ask for protection. Protection from what ground water, pollution. a drilling that deep has to have some history or has it never been tried

  2. Question: Burning hydrogen produces water. Where do the carbon emissions come from? Or is this a hybrid plant that burns a combination of hydrogen and natural gas?

    1. OK. I see that the plan is to turn corn silage and waste plastics into hydrogen. This is the carbon dioxide generating step. Hydrogen is a clean source for energy when burned. Unfortunately, hydrogen is also very energy intensive to produce. Yes, the hydrogen will be ‘biobased’ and produced from waste diverted from landfills but will the process take more energy to produce hydrogen than burning the corn silage and waste plastics directly?

      Carbon sequestration is akin to carbon landfilling; it would be better to keep the carbon in the carbon cycle through mechanical recycling, carbon recycling, even composting (still generates carbon dioxide but helps generate soil amendment).

      A lot more data and information is needed to know if this is truly an environmentally friendly project. This is similar to running an electric car on coal-generated electricity like we do here in Indiana. We (Indiana and US) need to do a better job of looking at the total system to determine true benefits and detriments.

  3. The science behind the project needs elaboration. What happens to the CO2 long term when injected? Is there a conversion of the CO2 to CCaO3, and if so, where does the Ca come from? The exemption sounds like actual damages are not exempted, [“The bill, however, would allow property owners to sue if they suffered actual damage or suffered loss of use.”], only “perceived risk” or potential damages are barred. That suggests the exemption is protection from spurious lawsuits more than anything else. Why the bill is proposed is confusing, and needs elaboration.

  4. Carbon sequestration pilot project. Changes the description of the carbon sequestration pilot project that is authorized under current law. Eliminates the requirement that the operator of the carbon sequestration pilot project be designated by the director of the department of natural resources. Defines “carbon sequestration claim” as a civil action alleging actual or potential infringement of, interference with, or damage to real or personal property rights or interests arising from: (1) the operation of the carbon sequestration pilot project; or (2) the actual or potential presence or migration in the subsurface of injectate from the carbon sequestration pilot project. Provides that a person may not maintain a carbon sequestration claim unless the person pleads and proves: (1) actual interference with the reasonable use of the person’s property; or (2) direct and tangible physical damage to the person’s property. Provides that a person asserting a carbon sequestration claim may not recover damages for the diminution of the value of the person’s real property due solely to any perceived risk associated with the operation of the carbon sequestration pilot project.” That seems like an overly broad protection for a new technology. I’m supportive of hydrogen power, but this kind of protection by state law is concerning.

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