Community Acceptance of Carbon Capture and Sequestration Infrastructure: Siting Challenges

Congressional policy makers are becoming aware that a national program of carbon capture and sequestration could require an extensive new network of carbon-related infrastructure. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a three-part process involving a carbon dioxide (CO2) source facility, CO2 pipelines, and a permanent CO2 sequestration site. A key consideration in the development of such infrastructure is community acceptance, which may ultimately determine whether, where, and how anticipated CCS projects may be built. Although the general public is still largely unfamiliar with CCS, there are early indications that community acceptance may prove a significant challenge to the siting of CCS infrastructure in the United States.

Recent federal statutes and legislative proposals related to CO2 control have only obliquely addressed public acceptance of CO2 infrastructure or related siting issues. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140) requires a report recommending procedures for “public review and comment” and protection of “the quality of natural and cultural resources” related to the siting of sequestration projects on public land. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 (S. 3036) would require a CCS construction feasibility study examining “any barrier or potential barrier ... including any technical, siting, financing, or regulatory barrier” relating to the development of CO2 pipelines or geological sequestration sites for CCS. The Carbon Capture and Storage Technology Act of 2007 (S. 2323) would fund CCS demonstration projects in locations that “represent a range of population densities” and are “in close proximity to ... utilities and industrial settings.”

Community acceptance studies in the United States and other developed countries are limited and based largely on hypothetical CCS scenarios and infrastructure choices. The research available suggests that the public is ambivalent towards CCS. At the policy level, this ambivalence may cause concern among legislators seeking to promote carbon control strategies that could impose significant costs on local communities or the U.S. economy overall. At the project level, this ambivalence may become outright opposition as community residents incorporate local considerations in their evaluation of a proposed CCS development.

If carbon control and associated CCS policies were narrowly targeted, or expected to have only marginal impacts on the U.S. energy sector, Congress might choose to defer consideration of community acceptance issues until CCS technologies were more mature and states had more time to work out CCS siting problems. But understanding public acceptance of CCS takes on greater urgency in light of proposals to curb CO2 emissions quickly and the scale of CCS infrastructure required to do so. The most prominent CO2 proposals in the 110th Congress seek reductions of nationwide CO2 emissions to 1990 levels or lower by 2030. Given such goals for reducing U.S. emissions of CO2, and the potential contribution of CCS to reaching them, the issue of community acceptance of CCS infrastructure may prove challenging.