Protesters marching with "No CO2" signs against the prospect of stored gas beneath their homes. Town meetings filled with angry residents complaining about lower property values because of carbon dioxide sequestered deep underground.
This is the horror scenario for developers of carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, which envisions grabbing carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and pumping the gas into saline aquifers and other deep geologic formations for permanent storage.
It is a scene that has played out in towns such as Barendrecht, the Netherlands, where protests erupted in the 43,000-person town after Royal Dutch Shell PLC proposed injecting 11 million tons of CO2 underground from an oil refinery. The Dutch government officially dropped plans for the CCS project earlier this month, citing a lack of local support. In the United States, there have been environmental protests in states like New Jersey, where a company is planning to pipe CO2 from a coal plant to a storage spot in the ocean near Atlantic City.
Against this backdrop, an environmental think tank released guidelines yesterday outlining how communities can work with companies and state regulators to diminish widespread opposition. By examining cases where proposed CCS projects did not generate protest, the World Resources Institute developed a blueprint with five principles for engaging local residents, regulators and project developers in a dialogue so there is less potential for hostility.
Community relations revisited
For example, the group pointed to the importance of "discussing potential impacts of the project" for all parties involved, and not just benefits. One way to improve the "risk perception of CCS" in a community is to have extensive field tests that demonstrate the safety of the technology, the report says.
"This isn't a cookbook," said Sarah Forbes, an analyst at WRI at a panel yesterday announcing the report. Rather, it is designed "to create a culture where project developers, regulators and local residents are working together," she said.
A key model for successful community engagement is the Otway Project in Nirranda, Victoria, Australia, said Francisco Almendra, an associate at WRI. There, researchers plan to inject 100,000 metric tons of CO2 underground from a nearby gas well.
From the beginning, the cooperative running the project in Australia reached out to the 300-person farming town with focus groups, public meetings, newsletters and a regularly updated website. Opposition has been minimal, according to the report.
Getting to the kitchen table
Similarly, the city of Mattoon, Ill., got behind plans for an experimental coal plant years ago that would store CO2 underground through use of "education, education, education," said Angela Griffin, president of Coles Together, a local economic development group from Mattoon.
"We had community meetings, we sat at people's kitchen tables," she said. Mattoon has since pulled out of the project, known as FutureGen, after the Department of Energy decided to downscale its plans, but Griffin said that early process of community engagement is still at work.
The city is still looking to host a carbon sequestration project, even if it is not the Department of Energy's revised FutureGen, she said.
By contrast, residents of Barendrecht felt like "they were guinea pigs," said Almendra. There was less of a proactive effort by developers to get to know community members, consult with them and keep them informed, he said.
Yet the biggest "if" hovering over CCS in the United States may not be community opposition, but financing. With a federal climate bill stalled on Capitol Hill indefinitely, companies wanting to invest in projects are in limbo, panelists said yesterday. Economic stimulus funds are drying up, and companies are grappling with where to find millions of dollars to complete planned projects amid a recession, they said.
The real action likely will be with countries such as China that are pumping money into projects with federal dollars, said Joe Ralko of IPAC-C02, a Canadian-based research organization.
"I don't think you're going to see the United States lead on commercial development of this technology," he said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500