A town's lonely struggle shows CO2 fears here to stay
BARENDRECHT, the Netherlands -- Kees Pieters has had enough. When the Dutch computer consultant abandoned city life to settle here 30 years ago, Barendrecht was a true village with 15,000 people. Weeping willows lined the canals and, in nearby fields, farmers grew sprouts and potatoes.
But mere miles away, Rotterdam, one of the world's largest ports, would not stop growing. Barendrecht's population swelled and, to accommodate the city's demands, industrial project after project intruded. Highways expanded. Natural gas drilling started. The railway doubled in size. Then came the high-speed train to Paris, with no local stop, and a heavy freight line to Germany.
"There's hardly any room left anymore," said Pieters, as he sat in a dimly lit cafe in the old city center. "It's all built up. In fact, it's just a suburb of Rotterdam."
Government resentment was running high. And that was before the plans for carbon dioxide storage came to town.
For the past two years, Barendrecht, now a city of nearly 50,000, has been one of the world's most outspoken opponents of carbon dioxide storage, fighting a proposal from the Dutch government and the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC to store 10 million tons of CO2 in empty natural gas reservoirs more than a mile beneath the town. The storage effort is a keystone of the country's aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
But instead of a smooth success, the Barendrecht project, still alive but delayed by three years or more thanks to protests and early national elections, has become a watchword for how not to approach carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. As Shell and Holland have found, CO2 storage, with the suffocation fears that attend it, is a hard sell. There are no positive associations to CO2 -- to residents, it is simply waste.
The storage unrest at Barendrecht, as Shell and the government tell it, has been a failure of outreach. Shell blundered in leading the way, they say, and mistakes in presentation were made down to the scale used in posters, which made it seem like the gas would sit in shallow rock just below homes, said Wim van de Wiel, Shell's press officer for the project.
"People thought that if they dug in their garden, they'd reach CO2 storage," he said.
Pieters, who leads a local storage protest group, rejects this view.
"Communicating a bad plan ahead of time doesn't make it a good plan," he said.
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