It’s not easy to promote CCS if the public are against you, and what is most likely to concern them is the prospect of having CO2 stored beneath their homes.
The Bahrendrecht debacle in 2011 has left raw nerves. Plans by Shell for CO2 storage deep beneath the Rotterdam suburb were not seen by residents as a great step towards curbing global warming emissions but as an example of a rich oil company seeking to find a cheap way of dumping its waste, while caring not a jot for the health of local citizens.
For fear of public objection, most thinking in Europe about CO2 storage has been directed towards offshore sites, often in northern waters. There is plenty of potential storage capacity, but the distances and difficulties are bound to keep costs higher than might be the case, and that's not to mention concerns about the energy use and potential CO2 release that long distance transportation entails.
The only reason we promote CCS is because the technology can help us combat the threat of global heating. It surely makes sense that its deployment should be facilitated not frustrated? Onshore storage of CO2 must not be dismissed.
I'm not sure what lies deep beneath my house but if the geologists say that it is suitable for CO2 storage I will not have a problem with the idea of it being injected into rocks 2km underground. I have confidence it will stay there forever, or at least for as long as will be needed.
The irony of the Bahrendrecht experience is that the town is close to one of Europe’s major industrial centres, with chemical and petrochemical plants in abundance, and trucks carrying hazardous and even potentially explosive materials moving between them all the time. The residents could have protested about a host of concerns greater than that of storing an inert gas.
Still, for fear of an adverse public response most politicians have preferred to avoid engagement with the subject of onshore CO2 storage, but a few are becoming braver. Denmark is proposing a small amount of onshore CO2 storage. France, in its new CCS strategy, is proposing to investigate the possibility of extensive onshore storage. Even the government in Austria is questioning whether to retain the legal ban on CO2 storage introduced more than a decade.ago.
Can we give them a helping hand? Can we reduce public fears about CO2 storage? Here's a suggestion that I haven't seen explored in sufficient detail.
With Russia's invasion of Ukraine we all became aware of the importance of maintaining our reserves of natural gas. Despite the disruption to supplies they are currently at 95% capacity, and European governments are celebrating their success to date.
But where is this gas stored? Some of it is in tanks on the ground, but much of it is injected deep into rocks from which it can later be extracted. I'm told there is a methane reservoir beneath the football stadium in Berlin, and another beneath Paris. I hear no objections to the practice comparable to proposals for CO2 storage, yet methane is potentially explosive and CO2 is inert. How does that make sense?
I'm no geologist and I claim no expertise. I'd like a better understanding of how and where methane is stored, and how the practice differs from that of CO2 intended to be stored permanently? Please do add your comments.
In the meantime, when it comes to explaining CO2 storage in a non-threatening way, I think this sentence might have a lot going for it:
WE NEED TO STORE GAS TO KEEP US WARM IN WINTER AND WE NEED TO STORE CO2 TO KEEP US COOL IN SUMMER.
I think it’s one that advocates of CCS will find useful to use on many occasions.
Director, CCS Europe