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date: 22 May 2017

Communicating about Climate Change and Carbon Capture and Storage

Summary and Keywords

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potential strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point source emitters, such as coal-fired power plants. The CO2 is transported to a storage location, where it is isolated from the atmosphere in stable underground reservoirs. CCS technology has been particularly intriguing to countries that utilize fossil fuels for energy production and are seeking ways to reduce their GHG emissions. While there has been an increase in technological development and research in CCS, some members of the public, industry, and policymakers regard the technology as controversial. Some proponents see CCS as a climate change mitigation technology that will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions. Others view CCS as an environmentally risky, complex, and expensive technology that is resource-intensive, promotes the continued extraction of fossil fuels, and competes with renewable energy investments.

Effective communication about CCS begins with understanding the perceptions of the general public and individuals living in the communities where CCS projects are sited or proposed. Most people may never live near a CCS site, but may be concerned about risks, such as the cost of development, environmental impacts, and competition with renewable energy sources. Those who live near proposed or operational projects are likely to have a strong impact on the development and deployment of CCS. Individuals in locally affected communities may be more concerned about disruptions to sense of place, impact on jobs or economy, or effect on local health and environment. Effective communication about the risks and benefits of CCS has been recognized as a critical factor in the deployment of this technology.

Keywords: carbon capture and storage, enhanced oil recovery, energy, sequestration, communication, media, risk perception


Research about greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and the environment has led to evidence that the climate system is warming and the majority of the increase in average temperatures is “very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations” (IPCC, 2007, p. 5). As a result, international protocols have set out targets for countries to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions to a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the Earth’s climate patterns (UNFCCC, n.d.).

Implementation of technological solutions for carbon reduction has become an important aspect of mitigating climate change. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potential strategy to reduce GHG emissions, specifically CO2. CCS is the capture of CO2 emissions from industrial sources and the long-term storage of the CO2 in stable underground reservoirs (Parson & Keith, 1998). One of the principal reasons for implementing CCS is to mitigate climate change (Griffiths et al., 2005), yet the CO2 captured from industrial sources also has the potential to increase the amount of oil extracted from depleted reserves through “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR), which can provide an economic benefit. However, EOR also encourages the continued depletion and extraction of fossil fuels, which ultimately may increase GHG emissions.

GHG emissions are in part tied to energy development. CCS technology has been particularly intriguing to countries that utilize fossil fuels for energy production and are seeking ways to reduce their GHG emissions. It has already been implemented in countries as diverse as Norway, Algeria, Australia, Canada, and the United States.1 Numerous additional countries, such as Indonesia (Othman et al., 2009), Brazil (Lipponen et al., 2011), China (Jaccard & Tu, 2011) and Saudi Arabia (Rahman & Khondaker, 2012), have shown interest in, or are in the process of, developing and siting CCS technology.

There has been growing technological development, research, and investment in CCS during the past decade, yet some members in the public, industry, and policymakers regard the technology as controversial (Ashworth et al., 2010; Bäckstrand et al., 2011). Some proponents see CCS as a climate change mitigation technology that will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions. Others view CCS as an environmentally risky, technologically complex, and expensive end-of-pipe technology that is resource-intensive, promotes the continued extraction of fossil fuels, and competes with renewable energy investments (Stephens & Jiusto, 2010; Bielicki & Stephens, 2008).

Communication about the risks and benefits of carbon sequestration has been recognized as an important factor in the development and deployment of CCS technology (Ashworth et al., 2010). Public opinion on any controversial technology can factor into successful introduction or implementation. Social science and communication research can aid in understanding how public judgments about technology are made, how the views evolve, and the factors that help explain the reasons for the judgments (Bradbury et al., 1994).

Research on communicating about CCS has grown greatly during the past decade (for overview articles, see Ashworth et al., 2010, 2015). Studies demonstrate that effective communication about CCS begins with understanding the perceptions of the public (locally affected and general). Then communication strategies can be effectively developed for the public or other stakeholders (Brunsting et al., 2011).

Because effective communication about the risks and benefits of CCS depends on understanding CCS, first a discussion of CCS is provided to describe the complexities involved in communicating about this technology. Second, a review of the factors that may influence locally affected community perceptions is provided. Third, the general public’s opinion of the technology is briefly discussed. Last, specific techniques and lessons learned about communicating about CCS and climate change are provided.

Description of Carbon Capture and Storage

One of the main objectives of CCS is to prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, and thus to minimize anthropogenic contributions to climate change (GCCSI, 2012). Figure 1 provides an illustration of the CCS process. The technology includes three major steps:

  1. 1. Capturing the CO2 produced at large industrial plants and separating it from the other gases produced.

  2. 2. Compressing the CO2 and transporting it to a suitable storage site.

  3. 3. Injecting the CO2 into deep underground rock formations, often at depths of 1 km or more.

Communicating about Climate Change and Carbon Capture and StorageClick to view larger

Figure 1. Simplified Overview of the Geosequestration Process.

(Source: Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC), 2016.)

Carbon sequestration has been proposed for, and applied to, numerous industrial processes. The different processes can impact the perceptions of, and communication about, the technology. The most common large point sources of CO2 are fossil fuel (including coal-fired power plants) and biomass energy facilities. Other potential sources of CO2 include natural gas production, synthetic fuel plants, cement production facilities, iron and steel industries, and other enterprises.

There are two primary CO2 storage options. The first option is geological storage, where the CO2 is stored in geological formations, such as oil and gas fields, coal beds, and deep saline aquifers.2 The second option is ocean storage, which includes direct release onto the seafloor or into the ocean water column (IPCC, 2005).

The CO2 can be used in numerous processes once it is captured. One common use of the CO2 is for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Instead of injecting water to increase oil production from depleted reservoirs, CO2 is injected into the oil reservoirs to increase oil production. This use of CO2 has a long history. The CO2 can also be used in enhanced coal-bed methane recovery. The combination of CO2 storage with EOR or enhanced coal-bed methane recovery can lead to additional revenues from oil or gas recovery, yet can also been seen as controversial, because it increases the recovery of fossil fuels. In addition to EOR and coal-bed methane recovery, the end uses of CO2 can include industrial fixation of CO2 into inorganic carbonates, as in food and beverage manufacturing (Environmental Protection Agency, 2015).

Carbon Capture and Storage: A History of Development

While storing CO2 to mitigate climate change is a relatively new strategy, the injection and storage of CO2 have a long history. This is particularly true in North America. The original goal of CO2 injection was to increase the amount of oil that could be extracted from conventional oil-production processes (Department of Energy, 2011). Research into the use of CO2 for EOR processes began primarily in the United States during the 1950s (Donaldson et al., 1985). The first commercial attempt at CO2 EOR began in 1972 in Texas (Department of Energy, 2011) and early CO2 sources used for the purpose of EOR came from both natural and industrial processes (Donaldson et al., 1985).

It was not until more recently that the capture, injection, and storage of CO2 were discussed seriously as a climate change mitigation strategy. The idea of capturing CO2 from fossil fuel emitters and storing it underground had been discussed in the late 1970s (Marchetti, 1977), but work on CCS only gained the attention of international policymakers and the scientific community in the mid-1980s, when concern about climate change began to increase (Meadowcroft & Langhelle, 2009). The first major international conferences on CCS were held in the early 1990s, which is also when active international work from industry, academia, and government began to accelerate the work on this approach to climate change mitigation (Meadowcroft & Langhelle, 2009).

In 1996, the first large-scale storage project began in Sleipner, Norway. The project involves separating CO2 from natural gas and reinjecting it offshore under the North Sea. Even though research and demonstration projects had begun, CCS still received little serious recognition as a CO2 reduction strategy until the beginning of the 21st century (Meadowcroft & Langhelle, 2009). In 2001, the Seventh Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requested that the IPCC investigate CCS. The resulting IPCC Special Report (2005) presented relatively favorable evaluations of the emissions-reduction potential of CCS (Meadowcroft & Langhelle, 2009). The IPCC report gave a greater profile to CCS among the international community and spurred significant interest in the use of the technology as a climate change mitigation strategy. Since that time, there has been an increase in communication research and research into the factors that influence the opposition to, or support for, this technology.

Public Perceptions and Awareness of Carbon Capture and Storage

It is increasingly recognized that public opinion is a critical factor for the successful introduction of CCS and there have been great advances in the knowledge of the risk perceptions of CCS (Ashworth et al., 2015). Stakeholders, NGOs, industry, and policymakers are encouraged to engage in collaborative planning processes and communication outreach programs. Communicating about risk is especially important in the deployment of CCS technology because it is often considered inherently unfamiliar and uncontrollable. For this reason, communication should address not only technical risk issues but also social risk issues.

Successful implementation of CCS requires an understanding of many technical and social factors. Scientists have increasingly accepted that technological change is shaped by the social context in which it is designed and used. The success of a particular technology will not necessarily be based only on its performance, because a system is not purely technical; its real-world functioning has technical, economic, organizational, political, and cultural elements (Wajcman, 2002). Therefore, in order to fully assess a development, technical and economic assessments must be considered within the current political, cultural, and social context (Stephens & Jiusto, 2010).

Social science research demonstrates that the majority of the public rely on intuitive risk judgments, called “risk perceptions,” to think about hazards (Slovic, 1987). Many factors affect how the public perceives risks. Research on expressed preferences has shown that characteristics like familiarity, control, catastrophic potential, equity, and level of knowledge influence the relationship between perceived risk, perceived benefit, and risk acceptance (Slovic, 1987). These factors “play a large role in determining levels of concern, worry, anger, anxiety, fear, hostility, and outrage, which in turn can significantly change attitudes and behavior” (Covello et al., 2001, p. 384). Perceptions of technological risks, such as CCS, have become an important area for risk communication research. Beck (1992) argued that we exist in a risk society and placed a heavy emphasis upon the novelty of our situation in relation to technological-scientific hazards. Risks associated with new technologies are ideal examples of the complex nature of these developments and attendant risk perceptions because of the risk–benefit tradeoffs involved (Perrow, 1999). For example, CCS technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and thereby contribute to mitigating climate change. However, the same technology could expose populations to health risks associated with the potential leakage of CO2 from storage sites.

Scientists, policymakers, and the general public will employ different, though equally legitimate, reasoning when evaluating and generating knowledge about a risk (Garvin, 2001). Experts generally utilize technical language (characterized by probabilities, statistics, and special terms common to disciplines like toxicology, epidemiology, and others) and employ specialized scientific knowledge about a risk (Powel & Leiss, 1997). The general public approaches risk assessment by drawing on everyday experiences within a specific social and cultural context (Breakwell, 2014; Lupton, 1999; Slovic, 2010). For instance, the public might base their judgments on responses to hypothetical questions: Can I trust the developers or regulators? Will a development affect my social well-being and relationships with others? Who will fund and carry out research? Have I had a say in a development? Who bears the costs and who gains the benefits? These questions and many other considerations germane to those at risk have been found to contribute to a risk judgment (Divine-Wright, 2005, 2009).

Understanding public perceptions is particularly important for communicating risks and benefits to locally affected communities and the general public. Not all individuals will view CCS technology the same way, as some people will be affected differently by associated risks and benefits. The average person may never tangibly experience a CCS project. Meanwhile, individuals in other regions of the world may be more likely to become familiar with, or affected by, CCS because they live in an ideal site for implementation. Individuals in “locally affected” communities that are located near a CCS project may (or may not) experience the NUMBY (“not under my back yard”) effect (Huijts et al., 2007). Individuals and groups in these areas may be more critical of CCS projects and could have the ability to stop a CCS project from being developed through localized collective action (Ashworth et al., 2010).

Public Perceptions: Locally Affected Communities

Broader public views on CCS may vary from the views of locally affected populations, as the risks of CCS are more concrete and have a larger potential to impact residents living near the projects (Parformak, 2008, p. 23):

An additional challenge is that of engaging the public in the topic of CCS when the issues are generic and abstract—yet, as the history of facility siting has shown, this situation is likely to change when the issues become immediate and close to home.

Public opinion on any controversial technology can factor into successful introduction or development, and this is especially true of energy systems (O’Hare et al., 1983). Public opposition has stymied numerous proposed CCS projects—for example, projects near the community of Barendrecht, Netherlands, and the community of Beeskow, Germany. In these communities, and potentially elsewhere, a lack of support for technological development can slow or stop the implementation of the technology. Research on populations affected by CCS has been completed in a number of countries and regions, including the United States (Bradbury et al., 2009; Feldpausch-Parker, 2010; Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009), Canada (Boyd, 2015, 2016, 2017; Shaw et al., 2015); Australia (Anderson et al., 2012; Ashworth et al., 2010), and Europe (Oltra et al., 2012, Brunsting et al., 2011; Huijts et al., 2007). The studies demonstrated that CCS risk perceptions can differ depending on the location and the technical and social context associated with the project.

Numerous contextual factors influence the perceptions of local residents, including national, local, and project-specific variables. National factors can include the general level of trust in public authorities, the prevalent opinion on energy technology, and general media coverage of CCS, climate change, and related issues (Brunsting et al., 2011). Factors that influence local and project-specific perceptions of CCS development include: (a) trust in developers, government, and information sources; (b) the perceived fairness, equity, and justice of the energy system’s implementation and development; (c) ownership of the project and the sociohistorical context in which the project develops; (d) the perceived risks and benefits for the affected community; and (e) views of the community on broader policy objectives and environmental values.

Trust in Developers, Government, and Information Sources

Trust directly influences risk perceptions, which in turn can dictate attitudes toward infrastructure and stakeholders. Trust can be defined as the willingness to rely on those who have the responsibility for making decisions and taking actions related to the management of technology, the environment, or other realms of public health and safety (Siegrist et al., 2000). Affected publics, especially those living near a technological development, require confidence in those who are operating the technology and making decisions (Flynn et al., 1992). The absence of trust (or distrust) in developers or regulators often is a major reason for controversy over the development of technologies (see, for example, Poortinga & Pidgeon, 2003; Bord & O’Connor, 1992). For these reasons it is important that developers, government, and information sources not only engender trust but also maintain it.

Previous research has demonstrated that trust can affect whether a risk or technological system is accepted. There are many examples of resident opposition to development due to distrust in industry or policymakers. Technological implementation in an area is likely to be influenced by trust in a number of stakeholders (Earle, 2010). This includes trust in regulatory sources (e.g., is the government trusted to regulate industry, technology, or siting?), trust in the developers and industry (e.g., is industry trusted to implement development?), and trust in information sources (e.g., are the sources that provide information trustworthy?).

Trust is consistently cited as one of the most influential factors related to support for CCS development among community members (Ashworth et al., 2010). Research in the United Kingdom about residents’ perceptions of local developments demonstrates the importance of trust in regulators, developers, and experts:

Whether focused on risks to the environment, public health, property values, or other impacts, scientific assessments of potential risks and impacts are often challenged by a lack of trust in both the data and the institutions that develop them. Distrust of regulators, lack of confidence in experts, and the possibility of accidents caused by human error all contribute to a high level of public concern, even in light of low levels of assessed risk. (Schively, 2007, p. 228)

Public confidence in industry and government was cited as an important aspect in public acceptance of CCS in areas of the United States, including California (Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009), New Mexico, and Texas (Bradbury et al., 2009). In the Netherlands, trust in government appeared to have the largest influence on support for CCS (Terwel & Daamen, 2012) and was more important than residents’ trust in environmental NGOs or industry (Huijts et al., 2007).

Research comparing four major European projects (Oltra et al., 2012) found that CCS projects that were led by research institutions (located in Ketzin, Germany, and Hanotomin, Spain) were more trusted and accepted than projects proposed by commercial industry (i.e., Barendrecht, Netherlands, and Beeskow, Germany). Lack of trust in developers and government (e.g., Shell and the national government) was particularly influential in the opposition to the Barendrecht CCS project (Terwel et al., 2012). In a survey of 811 residents located near the proposed Barendrecht project, more than half of the participants stated they did not trust “those who would the ultimately decide about the CCS plan” (Terwel et al., 2012). The large majority of survey participants felt that Shell and the national government had too much influence in decision making, and ultimately 86% of the respondents felt that the decision-making process about CCS was unfair (Terwel et al., 2012).

Related to trust is the importance of ongoing communication. Participants in California stated they would have more trust in developers if they received further consultation and information about CCS development at regular intervals (Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009; Shackley et al., 2004). Case study research on the Beeskow CCS project demonstrated that one of the reasons for local opposition was the perceived lack of information provided to locally affected residents (Dütschke, 2011). Researchers often acknowledged a correlation between trust and fairness of implementation (Besley, 2010; Walker et al., 2010).

Fairness, Equity, and Justice of Implementation and Development

Fairness and justice are often considered the driving forces behind many disputes about technological and infrastructure developments. When the public believes an outcome to be fair, they are more willing to accept a decision (Besley, 2010). Conversely, if a procedure for implementation of a CCS site is not perceived as fair and equitable, there may be a lower prospect of acceptance and more local resistance to development (Ashworth et al., 2010; McLaren, 2007). Fairness can be defined as whether an individual perceives the result of a decision to be equitable (Lind et al., 1990). It can include whether people believe they have received an adequate amount of information related to a risk or decision (Besley, 2010; Besley & McComas, 2005).

Research by Terwel et al. (2011) demonstrated that fairness and equity in development were critical to the acceptance of CCS technology. People want an opportunity to voice opinions in the decision-making process, even if they don’t actually take that opportunity. Terwel and colleagues (2011) argued that it is important for policymakers to be transparent about how they arrived at decisions about technology and regulation. Brunsting and colleagues (2011) stated, “Critical to the communication outcome is the extent to which CCS communication is an informed, open and objective public discussion process in which different views on the technology are acknowledged” (p. 1651).

Local residents are often concerned about who receives the benefits and who bears the risks of development. Participants in the United Kingdom suggested that any local community that accepted a CCS project should also incur some benefits from that development (Shackley et al., 2004). Research in Alberta, Canada, demonstrated that people in areas that are geologically suitable to CO2 storage may be concerned that they will become “dumping grounds” for industry (Einsiedel et al., 2013). Outcomes that are perceived as being unfair can result in protests, damaged relationships, and divided communities (Gross, 2007). It is often acknowledged that involving members of the community in implementation or planning can increase support for a project (Breukers & Wolsink, 2007).

Ownership of Project, Stigma, and Sociohistorical Context

Whoever owns, operates, manages, or regulates a project will affect how it is perceived (Slovic, 1993). Members of a community will base their perceptions of developments on the actions of previous managers/regulators/owners. Therefore, a question critical to examining future acceptance is: What have developers done in the past? If a company has done something unfavorable in the past, there may be little chance for the company to be trusted in the future. The past actions of an industry as a whole also factor into the acceptance of a technology. A community’s history with local industries and its experience with past environmental harms are a factor in their perceptions of CCS and willingness to host a site (Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009). In the California study of CCS, residents had previous negative experiences with industry (not related to CCS) and this affected their views about additional industry development (Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009). Residents likened the possible impacts of the CCS project with the previously perceived inequities related to other developments. Therefore, locals were concerned that the new developers would also fail to consider or address their concerns about potential risks from CCS, because previous developers in the area did not adequately address community concerns.

Undesirable developments can also stigmatize the community (in the eyes of the community members or outside populations). Likewise, a development may be opposed if it could potentially detract from future economic development. This is consistent with research by Boyd (2015), which found that participants opposed a CCS development partly because they thought the project would give an “industrial” image to the region.

Risks and Benefits to the Community

In some cases, the benefits of CCS to the community may be more important to the acceptance than the concern about the risks of the technology (Bradbury et al., 2009). A new development can bring economic advantages to a community, while it can also have a host of noneconomic aspects, such as stigma (i.e., adverse perceptions that result in avoidance or other negative behaviors), pride, and social upheaval (Flynn et al., 1993). Opposition or concern can be an expression of the desire to preserve shared places, spaces, and interactions that are valued by community members. Not all community systems are affected by developments in the same way. Examining the impacts that technological development will have on a given community means considering more than just economic worth. It also means considering the biophysical, technical, cultural, and social systems that collectively determine whether and how “community” exists in a particular place (Freudenberg & Gramling, 1992; Gramling & Freudenberg, 1992). Specifically, the social, cultural, economic, health, and environmental elements of community context need to be considered when studying local technological development, such as CCS.

Social, Cultural, and Economic Impacts to Community

Impacts to social systems are a concern among some residents where CCS projects are proposed. Social systems generally refer to the degree of connectivity among people and the quality and quantity of social relations among a population (Harpham et al., 2002). Impacts on social relations can occur as interest groups mobilize their resources in an attempt to promote or to oppose a development. In Canada, residents who opposed a CCS project stated that this was a reason to oppose the project—they thought the project would cause upset and fights in their community (Boyd, 2017).

The effect on local culture has been deemed to be a factor in local risk perceptions. Residents in Hawaii were concerned about possible environmental contamination potentially harming their way of life and culture. Research demonstrated that concern for the environment and about Hawaiian sovereignty could be factors in local risk perceptions (de Figueiredo, 2000). As de Figueiredo (2000) observed: “Another reason the ocean can be of concern is the Hawaiian culture. Some native Hawaiians feel that outsiders tampering with the ocean are committing acts of sacrilege” (p. 89).

Economic opportunities and detriments can both be outcomes of technological development. Opportunities include more jobs, increased business revenue, or tourism. Negative aspects could include a decrease in real estate values. Residents in the United States (California) wanted to know what benefits they would receive from the CCS development, including new jobs or better school buildings. Participants from Texas focused on how they might receive a portion of the economic profit from EOR (Bradbury et al., 2009). Detriments to the community include decreased tourism (de Figueiredo, 2000; Oltra et al., 2012), increased traffic, and decreased property values (Oltra et al., 2012; Shackley et al., 2004; Terwel et al., 2012; Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009).

Health and Environmental Impacts to Community

Alteration of the physical environment may have significant effects on nearby communities. There are many examples of biophysical or health risks from energy or technological developments that pose a hazard to local populations. Perceived risks of CCS to communities include catastrophic leaks (Shackley et al., 2004), induced seismicity (Wong- Parodi & Ray, 2009), and the associated health and environmental effects. For example, communities in California perceived storing CO2 as a risk to their water systems and health (Wong-Parodi & Ray, 2009). In the Netherlands, survey participants were concerned about the possible personal health impacts of CCS. CCS received more support if storage sites were to be placed outside urban areas. The desire to locate the project at a remote site was an important factor to United Kingdom participants as well (Shackely et al., 2004).

One of the largest concerns about CCS is the potential for chronic or acute CO2 leaks from a sequestration site (Bachu, 2007). These leakage scenarios could include: a gradual leak of CO2 through undetected faults, fractures, or wells, or abrupt leakage through injection well failure or from an abandoned well (IPCC, 2005). A leak could potentially affect people at workplaces or in communities at a CO2 sequestration site and could potentially include water contamination or human and ecological health effects if CO2 accumulates in confined areas (Siirila et al., 2012).

The first public allegation of a leak from a carbon sequestration project was made in regard to a project on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada. A farm couple indicated that there were CO2 degassing, animal deaths, and water issues beginning in 2003. Boyd (2016) assessed community perceptions through interviews with residents in the area where the allegations were made. Lessons for communicators include:

  • An allegation of a leak can affect the development or deployment of other projects, particularly if they are in the proposal stage.

  • Communicators who are tasked with engaging with communities should be prepared to discuss public concerns about leaks.

  • Trust in communicators and developers is critical. Local public information managers (if highly trusted) may have an important role to play in risk communication, particularly if a negative event should occur.

  • Communities may view negative events very differently. It is important for communicators to assess public views and not to assume that a leak will automatically lead to negative perceptions of a development.

The potential for a CO2 leak could be a concern for the communities where CCS projects are proposed or currently sited. For communicators to adequately respond to an incident or plan for communication strategies, it is critical for them to understand local concerns (Boyd, 2016).

Agreement with Broad Policy Objectives and Environmental Values

Existing research on CCS also demonstrates that perceptions can be influenced by public views about “bigger picture” policy and environmental issues. Research by Shackley and colleagues (2004) found that support for a CCS project depends upon residents’ concerns about anthropogenic climate change and the recognition of a need to reduce CO2 emissions. Furthermore, de Figueiredo (2000) demonstrates that those living near a CCS research site may oppose the technology because they believe that it will not reduce CO2 or that it is the wrong method for reducing GHG emissions. Hawaiian residents stated that resources put toward CCS should be spent elsewhere (i.e., energy efficiency and renewables) and that CCS would just further reliance on fossil fuels. Results from a large group consultation in Canada indicated that many participants recognized the reliance of the Western provinces on coal-fired power plants for electricity production and the need for CCS as a bridging technology. However, participants also recognized the need for a suite of solutions, including efficiency and the development of renewable resources, to reduce climate change (Einsiedel et al., 2013). Participants in the United Kingdom recognized the potential of underground coal gasification (UCG) (another form of CCS) as a secure source of energy for the future (Shackley et al., 2004). United Kingdom participants indicated that UCG could cut the costs of importing fossil fuels from less secure areas of the world and avoid the United Kingdom’s power supply being subject to foreign political or economic fluctuations (Shackley et al., 2004). Studies of stakeholder perceptions in Indonesia (Setiawan & Cuppen, 2013) demonstrated that diverse opinions of CCS may exist based on broader policy objectives and preferences. Indonesian stakeholders stated that: CO2 emissions should be reduced through clean energy sources, CCS may be one option in the transition to a sustainable energy system, and CCS is a tactic to keep burning coal (Setiawan & Cuppen, 2013). Furthermore, European researchers have found that the local debate around a CO2 storage project may be influenced by broader issues, such as the existing policy support for CCS, potential conflicts between CCS and renewable energy, the cost of CCS, and the controversial perpetuation of the coal industry (Oltra et al., 2012).

Awareness and Perceptions of the General Public

Public opinion is a major factor in the politics of energy technology development, as poor acceptance can slow or stop the development and implementation of a technology (Rosa & Dunlap, 1994). Public opinion of CCS has been determined through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. These methods can provide insights into people’s attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about a risk (McComas, 2006). There has been some criticism of the use of surveys to assess opinion about CCS due to the fact that there is still low general public awareness of the technology (Malone et al., 2010). Opinions from those who know little about the technology have been labeled “pseudo-opinions.” Furthermore, some argue that the responses are not useful for informing policy or for research purposes. Despite these limitations, stakeholders recognize the importance of examining public awareness and views of the technology to better understand opinions and to create effective communication strategies.

Public opinion studies on CCS have been completed in a number of countries and regions. Examples include the United States (Curry, 2004; Palmgren et al., 2004; Reiner et al., 2006), Canada (Sharp, 2005; Ipsos- Reid Corporation, 2007), France (Ha-Duong et al., 2009), China (Duan, 2010), the United Kingdom (Shackley et al., 2004; Curry et al., 2005), the Netherlands (de Best-Waldhober et al., 2009; Huijts, 2003), Australia (Miller et al., 2007, 2008), and Japan (Itaoka et al., 2009; Tokushige et al., 2007). The studies generally found that the large majority of the population had not heard of CCS (Curry et al., 2004; Ha-Duong et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2007; Palmgren et al., 2004). An even smaller proportion could correctly describe what CCS was and what issue the technology addressed (Curry et al., 2005; Shackley et al., 2004). However, there has been an increase in awareness in many regions. For example, in the United Kingdom it was found that the awareness of CCS increased from 5% in 2004 to 20% claiming to have read about it in 2013 (Reiner, 2015). However, among those that claimed awareness of CCS, there was still a low level of knowledge about what environmental issue CCS is meant to address.

Results from studies in China concluded that public education and communication should be integrated into CCS development policy to overcome low public acceptance (Duan, 2010). This recommendation was based on the fact that respondents’ understanding of the characteristics of CCS was a significant factor in predicting the acceptance of CCS (Duan, 2010). It is clear that, in both developed and developing countries, there is a low public awareness of CCS. The low awareness of CCS remains a major challenge for communicators. It has led to numerous studies to better understand how to communicate about the technology and its potential to mitigate CO2 emissions.

Communication about Carbon Capture and Storage

Studies have provided numerous insights into the challenges of communicating about CCS and climate change. Since 2000, there has been a great increase in communication research efforts and the development of materials to help stakeholders become better informed about CCS. The effort includes the development of guides for stakeholders, education tools for students, and toolkits for developers, among other strategies (Ashworth et al., 2015).

It is clear that communication input factors (e.g., source, message, channel, and receiver) can influence output factors (e.g., interest, attention, understanding, and attitudes; Brunsting et al., 2011). The numerous developments in communication research about CCS can be divided into five areas: (1) the impact of additional information on perceptions; (2) persuasion and framing of CCS; (3) credibility of information source; (4) the role of visuals in communication; and (5) media representations of CCS.

Is More Information Better?

The influence of information presentation on the support for, or opposition to, CCS is not entirely clear. Research by Palmgren et al. (2004) demonstrated that an increase of information on CCS resulted in a greater dislike for CCS relative to other carbon management options. Itaoka et al. (2009) found that as more information was presented on CCS, respondents were more likely to support CCS options (except for onshore geological sequestration). Numerous studies have emphasized the importance of message content and/or additional content on perceptions of CCS, including how additional information about the risks and benefits of CCS influences perceptions, the effect of specific information about CO2 gas, the impact of audience characteristics, the effect of the provision of educational material, and the impact of information specific to monitoring activities.

Research by Curry et al. (2005) demonstrated that an increase of information about technology used to mitigate climate change (i.e., the costs, efficiency in reducing emissions, and current share in the market) resulted in support for CCS, even over renewable energies. Shackley et al. (2004) demonstrated that, without information, the majority of respondents either did not have an opinion about CCS or were somewhat skeptical about it. When limited information was provided about the role of CCS in reducing CO2 emissions, opinion shifted slightly in support of the technology. An online experiment by Oltra and colleagues (2012) examined how (and what) additional information affected perceptions of CCS. They found that participants’ initial rating of CCS was slightly influenced by what information was presented. Information that associated CCS with natural processes generated a slightly more positive initial reaction to the technology than information about the safety of the technology (Oltra et al., 2012). This is consistent with research by Tokushige et al. (2007), which found that, after participants received information on the benefits and natural analogies of the technology, negative perceptions decreased, and acceptance increased.

Communication specific to CO2 has been another area of research. A survey of residents from Australia, the Netherlands, and Japan discovered that respondents had a general understanding of CO2 but poor knowledge of associated scientific factors (Dowd et al., 2014). The poor knowledge of CO2 was related to misperceptions of CCS and the residents’ opinion on the implementation of CCS. The researchers found that providing information on the scientific dimensions of CO2 reduced misunderstandings of CCS (Dowd et al., 2014).

Much research has determined that perception change in response to information depends on the way it is presented and the audience characteristics. Ashworth et al. (2006) found that information had the largest influence on those who were previously undecided about CCS (before they were provided with information). Curry (2004) found that providing information about the global need to reduce climate change could impact acceptance, but only among those willing to change their lifestyle in order to pay for the efforts.

There has been some research focusing on communicating about energy portfolios to examine the influence of additional information on perceptions. Fleishman et al. (2010) asked American residents to develop energy portfolios after considering the tradeoffs in regard to benefits, costs, and limitations of different technologies. The researchers recommended this approach for educating the public about the challenges of achieving a low-carbon future (Fleishman et al., 2010). Additional studies demonstrated that educational materials have more impact if they are disseminated before people form strong opinions about CCS, especially if the perspectives are based on little to no factual understanding of the technology (Bruine de Bruin & Wong-Parodi, 2014).

Monitoring CO2 sites is a critical component of CCS projects. Monitoring ensures safe operation of the project and contributes to demonstrating its overall effectiveness. During the injection phase, the amount and pressure of CO2 are monitored. Once the CO2 is injected, sites are continuously monitored to track the CO2 underground and to detect possible leaks. Research has examined the effect of providing information about CO2 monitoring on the public’s perceptions of CCS. An online experiment in Switzerland demonstrated that information about monitoring activities may not exert a reassuring effect and could be alarming when actively communicated to the public (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2011). Providing information on monitoring activities could indicate that the technology has a negative effect, thereby increasing concerns. However, research that focused on assessing a locally affected community’s perceptions of CCS showed contrary results. Community members who lived near a CCS project indicated that regular monitoring could build trust in the project and assuage concern (Boyd, 2016). The difference between results and populations (i.e., the general public vs. affected community) may indicate that once a project is already sited, there is need to ensure that effective monitoring (and communication about that monitoring) is in place.

Generally, many of the studies acknowledge that public opinion is complex and may be contingent on a combination of factors, such as trust in the information sources, characteristics of a project, public participation, etc. Furthermore, the type of message conveyed by a stakeholder is only one of the elements that affect public attitudes (Oltra et al., 2012).

Studies about Persuasion and Framing of Carbon Capture and Storage

How CCS is framed has been a critical subject for research. This is in part due to the many different uses of the technology. For example, the injection of CO2 can be used for enhanced oil recovery (i.e., to increase the amount of oil recovered from depleted oil fields), or as a means to mitigate climate change. Different persuasive CCS communication strategies have been examined, including greening, scattering, and emphasis framing (de Vries et al., 2014, 2016). Results demonstrate that scattering (i.e., sharing a lot of information at one time) can dilute the persuasive effect of relevant information about the technology. Emphasis framing (i.e., greater weight is given to the advantages of CCS over disadvantages, or vice versa) could be effective in shaping attitudes, but over a long period of time the technique could be perceived as manipulative (deVries et al., 2014). Framing the technology as environmentally friendly (i.e., greening) was also met with skepticism (deVries et al., 2014). This is consistent with research by Broecks and colleagues (2016), which found that messages about the climate change mitigation benefits of the technology might not build favorable opinions of CCS.

Social marketing approaches have demonstrated value in regard to developing messages about CCS. Wong-Parodi and colleagues (2011) found that messages that provide information about CCS and that have emotional appeal might be effective in engaging the public about the technology. Wong-Parodi and colleagues utilized a citizen-guided social marketing approach to influence positive or negative perceptions of CCS, particularly through appealing to core local values of the participants. They conclude that expert-informed CCS messages, embedded within an emotionally self-referent framework relevant to the place (in this case Wyoming), are more persuasive than expert messages alone.

Research has also examined how CCS is framed among experts and in policy documents. Arranz (2015) completed a discourse analysis of frames and blind spots in European Union documents and the potential impact that this framing may have on policy. Results indicate that documents consistently discussed the need for “coal for electricity” and how CCS could mitigate CO2 emissions from this energy source; yet, this framing may create additional concerns about fossil fuel lock-in and delay of other climate mitigation options (Arranz, 2015). Additional research assessed how experts framed CCS (Hansson & Bryngelsson, 2009). Results indicated that experts’ framings of CCS focus on the function and potential of CCS as a bridge to sustainable energy systems, sustaining a modern lifestyle, and the compatibility with fossil fuel lock-in. Experts also commonly discussed the uncertainties associated with CCS development and the potential for overly -optimisticm forecasts for the technology.

Credibility of Information Source

A credible information source is a critical component in effective communication about CCS. Research has shown that people are more accepting of decisions about CCS when they trust those responsible for making the decisions (Terwel et al., 2011). Ter Mors et al. (2010) examined trust in different information sources and how trust (or lack of it) impacted overall perceptions of the technology. They also assessed the effectiveness of communication depending on whether information was provided by multiple collaborating organizations or by individual organizations (Ter Mors et al., 2010). Results demonstrate that participants’ perceived factual information from multiple collaborating stakeholders (e.g., industry and NGOs) as higher quality than information from individual stakeholders (e.g., only industry or only NGOs). The public may view these joint communications as more valuable (or of higher quality) then communications from separate or individual stakeholders.

Public trust in individual stakeholders or organizations is generally important for communication strategies, risk perceptions, and attitudes toward the technology. In a survey of 264 Dutch citizens, Terwel et al. (2009) found that participants generally had less trust in industrial organizations than in the environmental NGOs involved in CCS. Terwel et al. also demonstrated that when a company’s message mirrors their modus operandi, they are more likely to be trusted by the audience (Terwel et al., 2009). For example, an oil company may be seen as more credible if it openly supports CCS for economic reasons rather than espousing environmental motives. Therefore, the objective content of the communication may not be the major factor in trust. Rather, the congruency between the organization’s inferred motives and their communications could lead to public trust in the message.

Role of Visuals in Communication about Carbon Capture and Storage

Images and visuals are a critical component in CCS communications (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013). Most CCS information material contains some sort of image or graphical representation (Corry & Reiner, 2011). Unlike other energy systems (e.g., wind turbines), the CCS technology has few visible aspects—because the CO2 is injected deep underground. Therefore, images have an important role in providing a description of how the technology functions and how the CO2 is stored underground (see Figure 1 for an example of an image). Accurate descriptions of the technology are especially important because there is low awareness of CCS among the general public and poor illustrations have been found to inadvertently reinforce misrepresentations of CCS, such as that the CO2 is stored in a cavity or cave (Wallquist et al., 2009). Therefore, it is critical that visuals are clear, accurate, and easy to understand.

There are numerous geological features that should be included in visuals demonstrating a suitable geological storage site (for an overview, see L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013). The features should include porous reservoir rock. The CO2 is injected into rock that contains tiny pore spaces and communicators need to ensure that the storage area cannot be interpreted as a large cavity (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013). Another suggestion is to provide information about, or illustration of, the liquid form of CO2, because people may be concerned that CO2 in a gaseous form could escape from the reservoir (Wallquist et al., 2009). The final recommendations for geological features include providing an illustration that demonstrates the presence of an impermeable caprock. Illustrations could include a solid dark layer to demonstrate that the caprock forms a barrier that prevents CO2 from escaping (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013).

Describing the depth of CO2 injection can be challenging for communicators (Brunsting et al., 2013). Recommendations to accurately depict the depth of stored CO2 include explicitly labeling the depth of storage, making the illustration to scale, or comparing the depth to a reference, such as the Empire State Building or Eiffel Tower (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013). However, research from Seigo and colleagues demonstrated that providing only an illustration cannot change existing misconceptions of CCS (L’Orange Seigo et al., 2013). Although graphics depict certain aspects of the technology, they should still be paired with textual materials that explain the process of carbon capture, CO2 transportation, and storage.

Studies on Media Representations of Carbon Capture and Storage

The media can potentially influence public perceptions of the risks and benefits of energy systems, particularly ones that are relatively unknown to the general population (Kitzinger, 1999). Numerous studies have examined how newspapers discuss and frame CCS. Far fewer studies have examined other traditional media channels (e.g., television, radio) or social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). Studies have been completed in European countries, such as Germany (Pietzer et al., 2014), the Netherlands (Best-Waldhober et al., 2012), and Norway and Sweden (Buhr & Hansson, 2011). Newspaper representations of CCS have also been studied in Japan (Asayama & Ishii, 2013). In North America, media studies have been completed in the United States (Feldpausch-Parker et al., 2013, 2015) and Canada (Boyd & Paveglio, 2014; Boyd et al., 2013).

In Canadian and American newspapers, CCS has generally been tied to the fossil-fuel industry. In Canada, CCS was often recognized as a key strategy for reducing CO2 emissions, but not necessarily as a climate change mitigation technology (Boyd & Paveglio, 2014). The technology was also recognized as a way to benefit or grow the economy, particularly in western Canada. In the United States, newspaper coverage also focused on the benefits of the technology, rather than the risks of adoption (Feldpausch-Parker et al., 2013). In Canada and the United States, newspapers that were located close to sequestration sites often emphasized the benefits of CCS more strongly than newspapers located further from sequestration sites. Results from Japan were similar, in that newspapers generally portrayed CCS as positive (Asayama & Ishii, 2013). In general, the Japanese newspapers sampled presupposed CCS was a promising climate change mitigation technology that would be developed by trusted government and industry experts. The Japanese media rarely discussed environmental or health risks.

Research from European countries demonstrated that the media do not always portray CCS as a positive technology. When 1,115 regional newspaper articles in Germany were examined to understand how the media represented four CCS projects, the overall evaluation of CCS within the articles was negative, but depended upon the specific project (Pietzer et al., 2014). The three primarily commercial projects were negatively portrayed, but the tone of articles describing the fourth project (a joint research and industry project in Ketzin) was more neutral. Media analysis from the Netherlands demonstrated that CCS was rarely linked to climate change in the newspapers, with only 4% of articles suggesting that CCS could potentially help mitigate climate change (Best-Waldhober et al., 2012); rather, CCS was linked to economic or political issues. A study by Buhr and Hansson (2011) compared media representations in Norway and Sweden. In Norway, articles focused more on the feasibility of CCS and were generally more positive toward the technology. It is important to note that Norway has established CCS projects and the technology can be seen as important to energy development in the country. In Sweden, CCS has not played a strong role in domestic energy development. There may be fewer perceived benefits among the public and news media (Buhr & Hansson, 2011). The research on newspaper representations of CCS demonstrated that the media often mirrored regional or national debates on CCS (Buhr & Hansson, 2011).

Media representations of allegations of CO2 leaks have also been examined (Boyd et al., 2013). In Canada, there were very few stories about potential leaks or negative aspects of CCS associated with environmental health risks before the allegation of a leak at a Canadian facility. However, immediately after the public allegation, there was an increase in the number of media stories about the potential harms of this technology. The research demonstrated that there was no increase in news stories about the event in other countries (e.g., United States, Australia, United Kingdom); however, there could have been an increase in news coverage in countries where the general opinion of CCS was more negative (e.g., Germany, the Netherlands).


Effective communication and public engagement are key factors in the development and deployment of carbon mitigation technologies (IPCC, 2007). While there are numerous risks and benefits associated with CCS, it is important that the public be well informed about CCS and other energy technologies (Abelson et al., 2003). One of the first steps to effectively communicate about CCS is to assess the factors that influence the public’s perceptions of the technology (Ashworth et al., 2010).

At the local community level, it is critical to assess the institutional, economic, and social aspects of a development and to understand how a community views the risks and benefits associated with a CCS project. Affected residents take into account not only the biophysical hazards associated with a risk, but also other factors, such as possible economic loss, the breakdown of social networks, the effect on cultural traditions, the impact on psychological health and stress, or the stigma of being located near a potentially problematic project. Local residents’ perceptions of energy systems are also influenced by a number of participation and development factors. Trust in developers, government, and information sources has been shown to directly influence attitudes toward infrastructure and stakeholders. Fairness and justice are also considered to be important factors in the support for, or opposition to, a development. Perceptions of the technology at a local level are also affected by individuals’ views on climate change, on CCS as a climate change mitigation strategy, and broader policy concerns. It is important to examine the views of communities where a proposed or current CCS project is located, as a critical component in the development of the technology is the ability to communicate about the perceived risks and benefits to a locally affected community.

There are numerous challenges to communicating the risks and benefits of CCS to the general public. What is clear is that there is no “magic bullet” or formula by which communication techniques can necessarily guarantee promotion of any low-carbon energy source (Brunsting et al., 2011). Audience characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, prior knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and involvement, will influence the perceptions of a technology and the outcomes of communication. Research has demonstrated that the most effective communication strategies are ones that engender well-informed and constructive dialogues that take into account the publics’ perceptions and their concerns, needs, and values (Ashworth et al., 2015; Brunsting et al., 2011).

There has been great advancement in the research and tools needed to communicate about climate change and CCS. It is clear that the effective communication about the technology will greatly influence the development and deployment of CCS and other energy technologies. However, there is still much to learn about the best methods to communicate about the risks and benefits of CCS.


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(1.) This is not an inclusive list of countries where CCS has been implemented.

(2.) A deep saline aquifer is a formation of sedimentary rocks containing water with high concentrations of dissolved salt. The water is unsuitable for agriculture or human consumption.