What can CCS learn from hydraulic fracturing acceptance?

by Alex Frumkin

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) faces potential obstacles when it comes to the development and deployment of the technology. Many of these challenges are strikingly similar to those faced by proponents of hydraulic fracturing, especially the challenge of social acceptance of this technology. Due to these similarities, Wolff et al. 2014 uses hydraulic fracturing as a comparison to identify potential strategies for future carbon capture and storage efforts. When using hydraulic fracturing industry as a comparison the authors consider not only the act of fracturing, but also the process of obtaining mineral rights and the waste removal process. This comparison is achieved by completing statistical analysis on the relationship between state demographics and the stringency of state regulations of the hydraulic fracturing industry. Ultimately, the authors find that states that are familiar with the oil and gas industry have less variable regulation of hydraulic fracturing. In addition, they recognize a disconnect between the regulations of hydraulic fracturing at the state level and at the local level. This tension suggests that carbon storage proponents should focus on local engagement not just on state level.

These two technologies face similar issues around social acceptance since they have many of the same operations, risk, and narratives for the potential benefits and drawbacks. Similar to hydraulic fracturing, social acceptance is critical for CCS to be successful. This includes the acceptance of homeowners, communities, firms that carry out carbon storage, investor, regulators, politicians, voters, various interests group, and the media. Each of these groups has the power to determine the development of CCS through supporting or protesting certain policies or regulations. Since the technology for CCS is not yet mature it is necessary to predict future trends in social acceptance for CCS on the hydraulic fracturing industry, and the way that social acceptance has effected the technology deployment and development.

The statistical analysis performed on a state’s familiarity with oil and gas and the state’s hydraulic fracturing regulation demonstrated that states with higher familiarity with oil and gas development had a similar level of regulation stringency for hydraulic fracturing as one another. On the other hand, states that were not familiar with oil and gas extraction were more unpredictable on the type of regulation the state would have for hydraulic fracturing. This suggests that carbon storage firms should focus first on opening in states familiar with oil and gas extraction. This is because they are more likely to have predictable regulations than states not familiar with oil and gas extraction.

The authors also performed a case study on the differences between New York and Pennsylvania’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing. These two states along with being neighbors are also both over the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest shales in the United States. Although Pennsylvania has greatly expanded their use of hydraulic fracturing, New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing within the state year after year. While New York had Pennsylvania vary significantly in the hydraulic fracturing allowed within their borders, both states have used zoning laws and local bans to control hydraulic fracturing at the local level. Both states indicate that municipalities have increasing regulatory control over hydraulic fracturing. This should be an indication to the carbon storage industry that municipal ordinances may be as important as state regulations, and that storage firms should be ready to engage stakeholders at a municipal level.

The case study of New York and Pennsylvania also illustrates how political pressure and the national spotlight compelled New York’s governor to continue to renew the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing again and again. Carbon storage firms will need to move quickly when it comes to engaging those in power to keep the issue from rising to the nation’s attention.

Josh Wolff, Howard Herzog, 2014. What lessons can hydraulic fracturing teach CCS about social acceptance? doi:10.1016/j.egypro.2014.11.736 http://bit.ly/1FjGsZF

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