CCS communication: lessons learnt from Barendrecht

The Barendrecht project planned to store around 10 million tons of CO2 over a period of 25 years from Shell’s Pernis oil refinery near the port of Rotterdam, under the town of Barendrecht in a depleted gas field.

Like any large-scale infrastructure or wind power installation, CCS can trigger controversy and provoke ”not-in-my-backyard” (nimby) activism from local communities, despite the safety of the relevant installation.

At the European scale, CCS also suffers from a huge lack of public awareness. Broad public information and education about CCS are therefore the first step to overcome and require knowledge about the target audience. A communication toolkit on CCS would ideally provide guidance on how to gather social data.

Nonetheless, as Diana Schumann from the Institute of Energy Research (IEF-STE) said at the FENCO-NET conference on the 3rd of November, opinions on CCS are unstable and depend on social aspects and on the CCS project kind, whether it is an onshore storage project, or a transport project, etc.  

The public acceptance of CCS is indeed complex and has to be considered from the very beginning of every project. First of all, during the site selection process: A fresh report by the Dutch consultancy ECN analysed five different CCS projects around the world. The two of these that were cancelled, Barendrecht and Carson (US) projects, were both perceived as exclusively private and top-down initiatives. The more successful projects of FutureGen (US), Otway (Australia) and Zerogen (Australia) were all based on site selection involving govenrment and local stakeholders from the very beginning. It confirms the recommendations in the Bellona guidelines on public support for CCS. The ability to influence projects decision-making is key for the public to consent to a project. Shell put a lot of efforts in additional discussion and research in Barendrecht but reactively and defensively, when protests had already begun.

Barendrecht inhabitants feared the plan would endanger the town and lead to fall in house prices. Defining tangible local benefits from CCS projects must be done, whether they are individual, social or environmental.

As to impact of the communication process itself, public support results not only on the message but it also varies significantly depending on ”who is the messenger”: independent experts, scientists and NGOs are generally the most trustworthy information sources and have a great role to play, as well as the government who must send a  clear message.

The Barendrecht cancellation also resulted from delays in delivering permits, showing the need to facilitate CCS policies and regulations, which in addition foster public trust in CCS.     

Trust, transparency, knowledge-sharing, active communication and consideration of anyone’s concern are consequently the underpinnings of an effective communication work. These are outlined in detail in the ECN study, which suggests 39 evaluation criteria against which communication efforts of CCS projects should be measured.