In an otherwise drab, industrial section of Tulsa west of the Arkansas River, a party of sorts took place Nov. 3 at Osage-owned Big Elk Energy.
Big Elk, a manufacturer of equipment for the natural gas industry, was celebrating its new partnership with Summit Carbon Solutions – a $12 million contract to produce metering systems to measure carbon that Summit will sequester from ethanol production in the Midwest.
Although the Osage Nation has no stake in Big Elk or the $4.5 billion (yes, billion) project, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear was tapped to speak at the event because Geoff Hager, Big Elk’s founder and chief executive officer – as well as the chairman of the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board – is Osage.
Standing Bear noted that the Osage Nation is and always will be an oil and gas tribe and observed that his generation “was all about burning fuel, fast cars and big cars.”
“My generation grew up adding carbon to the environment,” Standing Bear said, praising the Big Elk/Summit partnership for what was said to be the larger infrastructure project in the world in over 50 years.
Summit’s project is massive: A 2,060-mile pipeline that will spider through the corn belt of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakota and wind up north of Bismarck, N.D., where the compressed carbon it collects from 32 ethanol plants will be injected deep into the earth, a mile below the cap rock. There, it will be permanently sequestered and unable to enter the earth atmosphere, where the gas wreaks the havoc that has led to climate change.
Summit CEO Lee Blank said that the system will remove an estimated 12 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year – an equivalent of taking 2.6 million cars off the road. “Despite what you might have heard,” Blank said, “carbon is not OK.”
Chad Mariska, the former CEO of APS FireCo who was recently named Oklahoma’s Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development by Gov. Kevin Stitt, said that Big Elk was the fastest-growing manufacturer in the country in 2018, and that it had weathered the pandemic better than most.
Hager, the grandson of the late Cora Jean Jech and son of James and Alma Hager of Pawhuska, said that Oklahoma’s economy has been dependent on oil and gas since statehood – and that it was appropriate that it is part of leading the way to alleviate the damage the oil industry has wrought.
Construction of the carbon sequestration project is set to begin in the next few months, and it is expected to create 11,000 jobs during construction and 1,100 permanent jobs, Blank said after a series of short speeches at Big Elk’s Tulsa headquarters, where three food trucks served lunch to several hundred attendees and employees.
The project is expected to be operational in 2023 or 2024; it is not reliant on any government funding but instead is funded by ethanol manufacturers and other corporate investors.
Hager, who recalled that when he first started Big Elk he “was just a piece of paper” and couldn’t get credit, expressed his delight at the Summit deal.
“Summit Carbon Solutions is a dream partnership for our company,” he said. “Not only will our equipment be used to help reduce emissions, produce clean energy and create more jobs, our people will get to play an integral role in pioneering this emerging market for the benefit of generations to come.”