Not under my house!
The residents of two small Dutch towns are to play host to an unconventional neighbour: massive quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2). Royal Dutch Shell and NAM, the Dutch national gas company, intend to conduct a pilot scheme to investigate CO2 storage. Where will they put it? Under the towns.
The towns are Barendrecht, which lies to the north of Rotterdam, and Geleen, situated in the southern province of Limburg. The CO2 will come from the Pernis oil refinery near Rotterdam harbour. In Barendrecht, the CO2 will be stored in exhausted natural gas fields owned by NAM. In Geleen, it will be deposited under deep layers of coal.
Back in May, Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s Chief Executive urged the government to speed up changes in the law to permit the underground storage of CO2. He also asked MPs to make such schemes financially attractive to industry.
His plea didn’t fall on deaf ears. Steps to protect the environment have been part of the current government’s manifesto and Jacqueline Cramer, the Environment Minister, has now granted the scheme 60 million euros.
But, even in an age when the environment is on nearly every Westerner’s mind and many of us are looking for ways to cut down greenhouse gases, the news of the scheme has been greeted with less than enthusiasm in Barendrecht itself. The reason? The exhausted natural gas fields Shell and NAM plan to use lie directly under a new housing development that’s home to 5,600 residents.
The residents are unhappy. The town council is sceptical. “Why don’t you put it under the North Sea?” asked a visitor to an open day NAM held recently in the town to announce the pilot. “That’s a lot bigger than anything in Barendrecht.”
Reactions were blunter when the news was announced today. “It’s the biggest piece of nonsense I’ve ever heard,” wrote a reader of the newspaper De Telegraaf. “Plant some trees. A tree costs 10 euros. Why not plant six million trees in the Netherlands?” Another reader called the companies “Nutcases.” Another pointed out how small the Netherlands are and how vast China, a noted polluter is. And many are scared of what would happen if there were leaks.
But at the Open Day back in May, a representative of NAM pointed out what may have been the deciding factor. The scheme is a pilot and pilot schemes call for study. Lots of study. Storing CO2 in the North Sea wasn’t practical for a pilot. “There’s no reservoir we can easily check,” said the representative. “In Barendrecht, the old gas field is small and easy to study and check.”
Reassuring? Let’s hope so.