Residents Object to 10 Million Metric Tons of CO2 Under Their Homes

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Such "confined space" oil and gas fields are far safer and easier to monitor, he says, because energy companies understand the geology better than storage at other possible sites like aquifers where the carbon dioxide can move sidewise into the rock with more potential to leak.

Shell's plans to pipe the gas to Barendrecht would turn the town into a waste landfill, claim local campaign group CO2isNee. It's being labeled a dump, of sorts, that seems to anger locals the most.

"The value of houses, that's the real worry here," said resident Herman Bakker.

Barendrecht's town council refused to grant local permits and now worries that the Dutch government could overrule it by citing the national interest. Councilman Zuurbier warned against that.

"Here in Barendrecht there will never be any support for this," he said. "You need a general public support for the success of this new ambition. If you start this new policy with a conflict with Barendrecht ... that is a very nasty start for your general public acceptance."

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is the hope for the energy industry, European Commission environment official Jos Delbeke told a Brussels conference recently: "No realistic projections beyond 2020 give any hope of turning the global energy sector around without using CCS," he said.

Shell believes that the rock that safely harbored natural gas for millions of years could also be filled with carbon dioxide—and that Barendrecht could show that empty gas fields elsewhere could be used in the same way.

"We need to show you that it works, we need to show you that it's safe to store CO2 underground over long periods of time," said Graeme Sweeney, chief executive of Shell Renewables and chairman of the Zero Emissions Platform—a group of companies, nonprofit groups and academics lobbying for the technology.

Coal already provides 30 percent of the European Union's electricity, half of Germany's and 70 percent of China's power. But it is also the fossil fuel that puts out the most greenhouse gases and climate campaigners say Europe must give it up.

And the technology won't be cheap. Apart from the huge price tags for special equipment, European electricity producers warn it will drive up the cost of electricity because the process of capturing carbon dioxide means the plant must generate 30 percent more energy.

Even environmentalists can't agree. Stephan Singer of environmentalist group WWF-Europe says carbon capture must be explored because fossil fuels aren't going to disappear in the next 20 years. "Coal will unfortunately survive ... because of security of supply concerns which are bigger drivers than environmental concerns," he said.

Others such as Greenpeace see carbon capture as an expensive gamble with government money that should be used for renewable energy such as wind or solar.

"Our position is, if companies want to pay to research this technology, to prove that it's safe and effective and can work, they're more than welcome to do so," Emily Rochon of Greenpeace said. "But governments really need to focus on sustainable energy technologies that are available now."

"There are concerns about the ability to safely and permanently store CO2 underground," she said. "The oldest (one) has only been operating for 13 years, and so there's still a lot to learn about CCS."

Even if the technology works at an acceptable price, Rochon says "you still need the public to accept it."

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