Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

Shell’s Plan to Lead in Storage of Carbon Dioxide Hits a Snag


APRIL 20, 2009, 5:29 P.M. ET

Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s push to become a world leader in the technology to capture and store carbon dioxide has hit a snag in the Netherlands, where locals are trying to block the company’s plan to bury CO2 under their town.

The idea of stripping CO2 from the emissions of coal-fired power plants and other big polluters and injecting it deep underground is seen as a crucial weapon in the battle against climate change. But the technical and economic hurdles are immense, and it has never been tested on a commercial scale.

[Shell Petrol Station]Getty Images

A Shell gas station in east London

The case of the Dutch town of Barendrecht shows there are other obstacles, too: grassroots opposition from locals who say it’s unsafe. Barendrecht shows how not-in-my-backyard activism can trump efforts to stop global warming, even in countries with powerful green movements like the Netherlands.

Shell’s plan is designed to reduce emissions from its Pernis oil refinery near the port of Rotterdam. Already, the company diverts some of Pernis’s CO2 to nearby greenhouses and the local soft-drinks industry. Its aim is to pipe the rest to Barendrecht, 10.6 miles to the south, where it would be injected into two nearly exhausted gas fields operated by NAM, a joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil Corp. The Dutch government says it will allocate $39.2 million to the project if it gets the go-ahead.

Barendrecht is a small-scale demonstration project. Initially, Shell will be pumping only about 400,000 tonnes of CO2 a year into its gas fields, or about 0.2% of the Netherlands’ total annual emissions of the pollutant. But with lots of aging natural gas reservoirs coming to the end of their productive life, the Netherlands has vast potential for carbon storage. Shell says Barendrecht should lay the foundation for an industry that could sequester about 30 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2020.

Success is also crucial for Shell’s public image. The Anglo-Dutch major came under fire from environmentalists last month when it said it no longer planned big investments in wind and solar energy. Barendrecht, and two similar endeavors in Germany and Canada, would protect it from accusations that it is dropping its green agenda.

In fact, pumping CO2 deep into the earth is already common practice in the oil industry. For years, Shell and other big energy companies have been injecting carbon dioxide into oil reservoirs to boost crude recovery rates. That’s why some of them, such as Norway’s StatoilHydro ASA, now lead the way in carbon-capture technology. Since 1996, StatoilHydro has been stripping CO2 out of natural gas produced at its Sleipner field in the North Sea and storing it in an acquifer more than half a mile below the seabed.

But in Barendrecht, Shell failed to account for local opposition. The company drew up an environmental-impact assessment for the project earlier this year and put it up for public consultation. Some 1,300 locals raised objections to the plan. Last month, the town council came out against it, citing “numerous reservations.”

“It’s not just Nimby-ism,” said Anne-Marie van het Erve, a spokeswoman for Barendrecht’s council. “A large part of the carbon-storage technology is unproved. And we’re saying if it’s an experiment, you shouldn’t be doing it in an urban environment.”

Council members argue that Barendrecht, located in one of the most densely populated, built-up parts of Europe, is already playing host to a number of big infrastructure projects such as new housing developments, high-speed rail links and freeways, and there’s only so much it can take.

Ms. Van het Erve said locals also fear a catastrophic leak or explosion of gas. Some of them cite an incident in Cameroon in 1986, when Lake Nyos released a lethal cloud of naturally occurring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, suffocating about 1,700 people and thousands of cattle. Locals say CO2 should be stored in offshore fields in the North Sea rather than on land.

The council’s objections have been submitted to an independent commission, which is due to give its verdict on whether the project should go ahead later this week. Shell, which is backed by the Dutch government and regional authorities, is confident it will get a green light. It says a lot of the objections raised by local people are irrational.

“We say look at the facts and the risk analysis and you’ll see that it’s safe,” said Wim van de Wiel, a Shell spokesman. “CO2 is not poisonous and can’t explode. A lot of the complaints are based on emotions.”

Write to Guy Chazan at [email protected]


This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.