CO2 Pipelines: Navigating the Complexities and Nuances Through Expert Opinions

Authored by Jenn Brown

Prepared for the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy

The term “pipeline” tends to evoke strong reactions throughout many communities across the U.S. for various reasons. Many of these reactions are negative, and these feelings are not without merit. This concern around pipelines also expands beyond U.S. impacts as well, as the expansion of many pipelines is concomitant with the perpetuation of the fossil fuel industry.

In the United States, there are 2.8 million miles of regulated pipelines that carry oil, refined products, and natural gas liquids. These massive pipeline infrastructures have posed significant threats and damages to communities and environments throughout the country, and some of this can be attributed to aging infrastructure. For example, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, from 2001 to 2020, there have been 5,750 significant pipeline incidents onshore and offshore, resulting in over $10.7 billion worth of damages.[1]

This brings us to the issue at hand: how do pipelines that transport CO2 for both carbon dioxide removal and carbon capture utilization and storage fit into this picture?

It has become increasingly clear in recent years that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will become a necessity for the global community to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The recent IPCC AR6 Working Group I report released in August of 2021 reiterates this point. Even with the most optimistic modeling used in the report, limiting warming to 1.5˚C necessitates about 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide removal per year by mid-century and 17 billion by 2100. Some approaches to CDR might involve transporting CO2 via pipelines, but there are also many other approaches that do not necessitate the need for pipelines, such as enhanced weathering, agroforestry, and blue carbon.

One method of carbon removal that has received a fair amount of attention is direct air capture (DAC) in part due to the recently launched Orca facility in Iceland by Swiss company Climeworks. Furthermore, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 includes $3.5 billion allocated to the construction of four “regional direct air capture hubs” and additional funding for CO2 pipelines.  This effort is made with high hopes from the federal government that these hubs will result in the creation of clean energy jobs.

The carbon removed with DAC can be injected into the ground right at the plant where the carbon removal takes place, as long as the facility is located over appropriate geological formations. This is an idea known as colocation, which prevents the need for transporting CO2 altogether. But DAC could also possibly, to some degree, come to rely on the utilization of pipelines to transport the captured COto sites where it can be injected into geological storage areas, or to facilities where it can be transformed into long-lasting carbontech products such as concrete.

These developments conjure an important question: are all pipelines created equal? Furthermore, does a CO2 pipeline intended for combating climate change warrant the same concern as oil and gas pipelines? Are pipelines needed to scale DAC or can CO2 storage happen onsite at a DAC plant?

As a starting point to help navigate this thorny and complex question, we turned to the expertise of three professionals working actively on these exact issues. Through these discussions, we sought out perspectives from the “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” stances on if the scaling of DAC depends on CO2 pipelines. As these viewpoints highlight, there is a range of perspectives when it comes to if the growth of DAC is reliant on CO2 pipelines or not.

The Experts

Xan Fishman, who is representing the “yes” perspective, is currently the Director of Energy Policy and Carbon Management at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Fishman previously worked for Congressman John Delaney as Chief of Staff. Through this experience, he became interested in DAC as a way of simultaneously addressing climate change and investing in various communities to create jobs, particularly in the Midwest.

Celina Scott-Buechler, who represents the “no” perspective, is a Climate Innovation Fellow at Data for Progress. Scott-Buechler’s work with the organization is on looking at how large-scale carbon removal can work in tandem with decarbonization in the U.S. Her work is also focused on promoting job creation and working alongside the environmental justice community to ensure these efforts do not fall into the traps of past infrastructure projects that did not have community support. She also served in the office of Senator Cory Booker through a one-year fellowship term working on natural climate solutions.

Rory Jacobson, who represents the “maybe” perspective, is Deputy Director of Policy at Carbon180, a D.C.-based NGO focused exclusively on carbon removal federal policy. Jacobson has spent the majority of his career focused on CDR, most recently at Natural Resources Defense Council researching near-term federal policies to incentivize deployment. As a graduate student at Yale, he advised Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on myriad climate and energy issues.

What differentiates a CO2 pipeline from other types of pipelines?

Fishman points to the fact that much of the opposition to existing pipelines, particularly oil and gas, derives from the risk of spills and the implications that has for communities and the environment. Additionally, this perception is influenced by what the pipeline is transporting, which in the case of oil and gas is related directly to climate change via the resulting emissions that will cause further harm to communities and the larger environment. On the other hand, COpipelines are part of the climate solution. Although careful consideration should be taken when siting pipelines, implementing safety precautions and regulations, CO2 pipelines are generally safe and do not carry hazardous waste, according to Fishman.

Scott-Buechler feels that how the public views these issues matters, and that pipelines, in general, have had very negative image “in particular because of the way these pipelines have been sited through indigenous lands without consultation, though environmental justice communities and other rural communities without consent, minimal consent, or at least with minimal information.” Due to this, combined with other prominent issues for many groups, especially within the environmental justice community, the idea of a pipeline is a nonstarter because of all the baggage it carries.

Jacobson points to the more technical aspects on top of important questions around equity and justice. “From an infrastructure and engineering perspective they (CO2 pipelines)are actually quite different from oil and gas pipelines, and this difference is quite important because we actually do not transport CO2  as a gas. We transport it as a supercritical fluid which means that the carbon dioxide is under such high pressures that it actually behaves like a liquid.” CO2 needs to be transported at 700 PSI higher than, for example, natural gas, meaning the pipeline walls have to be thicker than other types of pipelines. This also indicates that the repurposing of decommissioned oil and gas pipelines, although in some cases could be considered ideal, is not a feasible option. Even in instances in which engineering is perfectly compliant with regulation, past missteps nonetheless highlight the inadequacy of federal review for existing pipelines, and the need for greater oversight.

Are CO2 Pipelines Necessary for Scaling Direct Air Capture?

“The way that I think about direct air capture is that it is nascent. But to go from where we are right now to the scale we need to be a major factor in achieving net-zero, there is a long way to go…In general, the faster we are able to deploy, the faster we will be able to scale,” says Fishman. Additionally, he makes the point that in order to meet 2050 climate goals, it is more beneficial to begin scaling now versus 5-10 years from now. He also points to the fact that there are already 5,000 miles of COpipelines currently in existence in the US. The 2020 Princeton University report Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure, and Impacts has indicated significantly more pipeline infrastructure will be needed to achieve climate goals.[2] Furthermore, storage requires investment. Currently, DAC facilities are not yet at scale to bring in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and will probably not be for some time. Therefore, there is likely not enough  CO2 being brought in by DAC technologies as of yet to warrant large investments into storage. However, there are many existing industrial sites utilizing carbon capture utilization and storage, and connecting those sites to existing sinks for sequestration requires pipelines. Sharing lines of transportation across sectors increases the likelihood that each of those industries will be able to get off the ground without having to build something from scratch. Fisherman argues that this makes economic sense and will assist in the overall success of DAC in the long run.

Scott-Buechler argues that more information is needed around how to make pipelines safer and better regulated, especially including community input. Furthermore, pipelines are likely to be a huge sticking point within many communities, therefore she predicts potential 5-10 year delays in CO2 pipeline rollout given the problematic history of other types of pipelines in the US. In looking at it through this lens, co-locations with DAC facilities will be key to deploying the technology (which is injecting CO2 captured from a DAC facility right where the DAC plant is located, such as the Orca plant in Iceland). She further points to the fact that there are enough opportunities for co-location and many other ways for the industry to consider storage in more creative terms. Therefore, Scott-Buechler makes the case that it is feasible to severely limit the number of pipelines needed to scale DAC.

Jacobson argues for the creation of a comprehensive task force responsible for building out both the geography and the safety standards required to ensure best practices. This entity would consider everything from pipelines to siting to public engagement, including designating appropriate locations for these pipelines with rich public engagement and consent, examining the construction, quality, and surrounding ecosystem of pipelines, and setting safety parameters for operation. Thoughtful planning of pipeline networks can help both limit the number of pipelines and the distances to which they transport CO2 from DAC projects. This is especially relevant in light of increased funding for carbon removal that we’re seeing in upcoming legislation and federal funding. In implementing projects such as the four regional DAC hubs included in the recent bipartisan infrastructure deal, federal agencies like the DOE can set the tone for future deployment, safeguards, and community engagement.

What are the factors behind these viewpoints?

Fishman takes into consideration the threat of climate change and looking at the IPCC’s recommendation for the removal of 5-10 gigatons of CO2 per year. “It’s not just about getting to net-zero, it’s about getting to net negative,” he says. There is also the possibility the global community will achieve collective climate goals later than needed, which will further increase the need for removals. In terms of looking at CO2  pipelines, he points out that other modes of transporting COas an alternative come with their own set of complications, such as additional emissions. “The stakes are so high that not investing in a solution that it turns out we need, and it is fairly obvious as a potential path right now, I think would be a terrible mistake…There is an extent to which we built our way into this problem (climate change), and the real solution available to us is to build our way out of it,” he says. But the key is ensuring these solutions are built the right way,  while also taking into consideration any environmental justice concerns.

Scott-Buechler has worked closely with environmental justice groups for quite some time, both on and off Capitol Hill, and has come to view issues around carbon removal through that lens. She indicates that potential leakage is a large factor behind the mistrust, and sees pipelines as a nonstarter with these groups. She points to Standing Rock, stating “pipelines at large have developed this larger than life personality when talking about carbon removal infrastructure…generally siting and permitting will be something that we as a carbon removal community will contend with.” She also points to the DAC hubs laid out within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, arguing that these hubs need to prioritize development in communities, led by those communities and other public groups rather than private industry, especially in communities transitioning away from economic reliance on fossil fuel industries. Further, researchers and policy communities should focus funds in these areas to fill existing gaps in information.

Jacobson explains that equitable construction, development, and input are critical to communities that would potentially host these projects, and that thoughtful quantitative analysis can better articulate the need for if and how much DAC needs CO2 pipeline infrastructure. Other types of pipelines have resulted in infringement on tribal sovereignty and other disasters, and Jacobson says that resistance to pipelines comes for a good reason. “These groups have already bared the environmental injustice that the oil industry and natural gas sector have placed on them, and accordingly, we would like to not have another pipeline of risk in their community and backyard. That is completely understandable.” He makes the case that strong federal regulation paired with public engagement and science-based communication with the communities is the only path forward. Additionally, Rory acknowledged that there is likely to be a lot of resistance from wealthy and privileged communities not wanting to see these pipelines in their backyard, and likely have more resources than lower-income communities to push back — something that should also be considered and remedied in policy and process.


[1] Depending on the type of pipeline, what it is transferring, what it is made of, and where it runs, there are various federal or state agencies that have jurisdiction over its regulatory affairs. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversees Interstate pipelines. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration oversees, develops, and enforces regulations to ensure the safe and environmentally sound pipeline transportation system. The United States Army Corps of Engineers oversees pipelines constructed through navigable bodies of water, including wetlands. State environmental regulatory agencies are also involved when it comes to pipelines that run through waterways.

[2] 21,000 to 25,000 km interstate CO2 trunk pipeline network and 85,000 km of spur pipelines delivering CO2 to trunk lines.


California Announces New Actions to Fight Climate Change and Protect Biodiversity

Authored by Sydney J. Chamberlin, Ph.D. Climate Policy Associate, The Nature Conservancy in California

Record breaking heat waves. Massive mega-fires. Hurricane after hurricane. In a year wrought with disaster on global scales, these fingerprints of climate change serve as a poignant reminder that the time for climate action is now. With a recent Executive Order, California Governor Gavin Newsom lays out a new possible path for action – focusing on the role that natural and working lands can play in mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity.

When sustainably managed, our natural and working lands – our forests, wetlands, grasslands, farmlands, rangeland, deserts and urban green spaces – provide a multitude of services that support thriving communities and habitat: they provide food, fiber, and recreational space; store and transport water; bolster local economies; support wildlife; buffer communities against floods, storms, and other disasters; and capture and store carbon. 

In the same way that our lands can act as a carbon sink, changes that impact soil organic matter and ecosystem health – including land-use modifications, deforestation, wildfires, and more – can result in stored carbon being released to the atmosphere. Ultimately, the dance between carbon stored and carbon released determines whether our lands function as a net sink of carbon or net source of carbon – and consequently, whether they serve as an asset or a liability in the fight against climate change. 

In the United States, managed forests and other lands have traditionally acted as net carbon sinks (EPA, 2020). However, over the past 150 years, land-use changes have added almost half as much carbon to the atmosphere as fossil fuel emissions (Houghton & Nassikas, 2017; Le Quéré et al., 2017) – and climate stressors are further driving changes in ecosystem carbon stocks, threatening to turn some of our lands into a net source of emissions (Sleeter et al., 2019). 

In light of this threat, decision-makers and governments are increasingly recognizing the role that strategic land management, conservation, and restoration activities (also known as nature-based climate solutions) can play in removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in soil and vegetation. 

These nature-based strategies provide climate mitigation benefits while they deliver a suite of additional environmental, economic and social benefits – enhancing both ecosystem and community resilience. Protecting people and nature from the worsening impacts of climate change will require swift and decisive action that recognizes the importance of natural and working lands and intact ecosystems. 

In 2020, California legislators led efforts to integrate nature into the State’s climate strategy. Assemblymember Kalra’s (aptly named) Assembly Bill 3030 aimed to protect 30% of the state’s land areas and water by 2030, aligning with an international “30 by 30” campaign that strives to avoid a point of no return for many of Earth’s species and ecosystems. Assembly Bill 2954, authored by Assemblymember Robert Rivas, would have required the State to set an overall climate goal for California’s natural and working lands and to identify methods to help the State utilize the natural and working lands sector in achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

California’s new Executive Order, signed in October 2020, builds on the leadership of Assemblymembers Kalra and Rivas and advances some of the outcomes that Assembly Bills 3030 and 2954 strove to achieve. The Order calls for the State to protect 30% of the state’s water and land by 2030, and directs the California Natural Resources Agency to form a California Biodiversity Collaborative to help achieve this goal. 

The Order also acknowledges the critical role that the stewardship of natural and working lands must play in achieving the State’s climate change, air quality, water quality, equity, and biodiversity goals. It tasks California agencies with establishing a climate target for the natural and working lands sector and firmly establishes carbon sequestration as a part of the State’s climate strategy. The Order further directs State agencies to identify and implement strategies that will accelerate the removal of carbon with nature – while building climate resilience in California communities.

Accomplishing these ambitious goals will require the State to reexamine its current priorities and funding commitments – though there are also a number of non-monetary policy pathways that the State can use to elevate the role of natural and working lands in its climate action. 

The potential rewards of this action are substantial; a newly released report by The Nature Conservancy shows that implementing a suite of nature-based climate solutions could reduce more than 514 million metric tons of carbon dioxide cumulatively by 2050, with economic savings from avoided damages of more than $2.4 billion (The Nature Conservancy, 2020). The report shows that, in many cases, nature-based strategies can be dramatically scaled up by better aligning existing California policies and programs – and at a fraction of the cost of other methods such as industrial carbon capture. The many additional multiple benefits that accompany nature-based climate solutions provide another incentive to achieve the goals laid out by the Executive Order. 

In the post-COVID-19 world, restoring the vibrancy of California communities will require the State to balance climate action against other competing priorities. Nature is a powerful and cost-effective tool that the State can and should deploy to remove carbon. Implementing this tool will require shifting priorities and funding to match the urgency of the climate crisis. The time to act is now – and in acting to protect nature, California ensures that nature can help to protect us. 



EPA. (2020). Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. 

Houghton, R., & Nassikas, A. A. (2017). Global and regional fluxes of carbon from land use and land cover change 1850–2015. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 31(3), 456–472.     

Le Quéré, C., Andrew, R. M., Friedlingstein, P., Sitch, S., Pongratz, J., Manning, A. C., …, Zhu, D. (2017). Global carbon budget 2017. Earth System Science Data Discussions, 10, 405–448.‐2017‐123   

Sleeter, B. M. , D. C. Marvin, D. R. Cameron, P. C. Selmants, A. L. Westerling, J. Kreitler, C. J. Daniel, J. Liu, and T. S. Wilson. (2019). Effects of 21st‐century climate, land use, and disturbances on ecosystem carbon balance in California. Global Change Biology 25(10):3334-3353. 

The Nature Conservancy. (2020). Nature-based Climate Solutions: A Roadmap to Accelerate Action in California. 

Agroforestry and Carbon Removal

Authored by Allison Tennant, Carbon Removal Program Assistant, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy & Union of Concerned Scientists

On September 2nd, the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy (ICR) hosted a webinar on agroforestry, the latest in our explainer series. ICR Fellow Jason Funk moderated a panel that featured: 

  • Susan Stein, Director of the USDA National Agroforestry Center 
  • John Munsell, Professor and Forest Management Extension Specialist in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech
  • Patrick Worms, Senior Science Policy Advisor at the World Agroforestry Centre, presented on the different technical and economic aspects of agroforestry.

Susan Stein kicked off the presentations by giving the USDA definition of agroforestry: “The intentional integration of trees or shrubs with crop and animal production to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.” She then explained five types of agroforestry — forest buffer, alley cropping, silvopasture, windbreak, forest farming — and how they remove and store carbon. In the U.S., over 30,000 farms practice some form of agroforestry with government and private support.

John Munsell followed with the social, environmental, and economic benefits of agroforestry, such as increasing yield, increasing soil, improving air and water quality, and strengthening social capital. He also explained some of the barriers to widespread adoption and potential policies to address those issues. While a lack of awareness and knowledge of agroforestry among farmers poses one barrier, the time and space needed to see returns poses a more formidable obstacle.  Professor Munsell discussed upfront payments for land conversion, performance-based payments, and cost-share programs as ways to address that barrier. 

Patrick Worms rounded out the presentations by giving an international perspective and examples. He pointed out the great potential for agroforestry, and land management solutions in general, to remove carbon dioxide worldwide and the need for broader adoption. Currently, 43% of all agricultural land has more than 10% tree cover, but there are many opportunities for growth.

The presentations were followed by questions from the audience. 

The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy would like to thank environmental journalist Erik Hoffner for helping to organize this webinar. Erik publishes a series on agroforestry for the award-winning environmental news site, which you can find at

The next webinar in this series is “Equity and Justice in Carbon Removal” which will take place Monday, September 21 at 10am ET. Sign up here. You can find recordings of all past webinars on our website.

ICR Fact Sheets Provide a Comprehensive Overview of All Things Carbon Removal

Although the emerging field of carbon removal has great potential to help curb climate change when coupled with more traditional methods of mitigation, it is riddled with uncertainty. There are many risk factors and many components within each individual method that are still poorly misunderstood. The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy is dedicated to creating a set of comprehensive tools that can aid in providing clarity on carbon removal practices and technologies on many different levels.

Among these valuable resources are a comprehensive set of Fact Sheets that provide overviews on each of the individual topics regarding carbon removal, the production of which was provided for by a grant from The New York Community Trust. These fact sheets are broken down into two categories, topics in carbon removal and approaches to carbon removal. 

The topics in carbon removal fact sheets provide an overview and background on:

What is carbon removal?

Nature-based solutions to climate change and 

Carbon capture & use and carbon removal

The approaches to carbon removal fact sheets break down the ten different topics, providing a deeper context to the potential methods behind carbon removal. Each of these provides not only an overview but weigh in on the co-benefits & concerns, potential scales and costs, technological readiness, governance consideration, and provide sources for further readings. These methods include:

Agroforestry: Incorporates trees with other agricultural land use which not only removes carbon dioxide but also provides benefits to farmers and their communities.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage: A technique dependent on two technologies. Biomass that is converted into heat, electricity, liquid gas, or fuels make up the bioenergy component. The carbon emissions generated from this bioenergy conversion are then captured and stored in geological formations or long-lasting products, this being the second component of this method.

Biochar: A type of charcoal that is produced by burning organic material in a low oxygen environment, converting the carbon within to a form that resists decay. It is then buried or added to soils where that carbon can remain harbored for decades to centuries.

Blue Carbon: Refers to the carbon that is sequestered in peatlands and coastal wetlands such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass among others, many of which have been destroyed in recent decades. 

Direct Air Capture: An approach that employs mechanical systems that capture carbon directly and compress it to be injected into geological storage, or used to make long-lasting products.

Enhanced Mineralization: Also known as enhanced or accelerated weathering. Accelerates the natural processes in which various minerals absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One implementation involves grinding basalt into powder and spreading it over soils, causing a reaction with CO2 in the air, forming stable carbonate materials.

Forestation: This includes forest restoration, reforestation and afforestation. Forests remove carbon dioxide and through the trees within, and have the potential to store that carbon for long periods of time.

Mass Timber: A method that involves utilizing specialized wood products to construct buildings, therefore replacing emission-intensive material such as concrete and steel. Further, this wood stores carbon that was captured from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. 

Ocean Alkalization: A process involving adding alkaline substances, such as olivine or lime, to the seawater to enhance the ocean’s natural carbon sink.

Soil Carbon Sequestration: Also referred to as “carbon farming” or “regenerative agriculture.” This process involves managing land in ways that promote carbon absorption and sequestration within soils, especially prominent among farmland.

By reviewing each of these succinctly written fact sheets, it is possible for one to gain a solid understanding of what is happening in the world of carbon removal; the good, the bad, and the misunderstood.