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Indiana University study: Support for carbon capture is extensive but not strong

September 18, 2012
Bloomington, Indiana --

A solid majority of Indiana residents think it's a good idea to address concerns about climate change by capturing carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and storing it underground, according to a recently published study by Indiana University researchers.

But most Hoosiers didn't know about the approach, called carbon capture and storage, before being contacted for the study. And even after learning about it, a majority didn't have strong feelings pro or con -- suggesting they will be open to persuasion by supporters and opponents of the technology.

Sanya CarleyRespondents were more likely to support carbon capture and storage if they believe that human activities contribute to climate change, support increased use of renewable energy or have an "egalitarian" worldview. Respondents who called themselves political conservatives were more likely to oppose carbon capture and storage.

"Our study finds that initial perceptions are mostly favorable toward the deployment of CCS technology in Indiana and that respondents tend to shape their perceptions of CCS on their personal beliefs about climate change, energy, politics and equality," said Sanya Carley, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington.

"But most respondents were not familiar with CCS before the survey was administered," she said. "While these findings suggest that Indiana residents will likely support CCS if factual information is provided about the technology, it may also suggest the possibility that respondents could be influenced to change their stance on CCS in the presence of more information on the pros or cons of the technology, especially if this information speaks to their personal beliefs."

John RuppThe study, "Early Public Impressions of Terrestrial Carbon Capture and Storage in a Coal-Intensive State," was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Co-authors are Rachel M. Krause, an IU SPEA alumna now at the University of Texas-El Paso; David C. Warren, a SPEA doctoral student; John A. Rupp, a research scientist at the Indiana Geological Survey; and SPEA Dean John D. Graham.

The study is the first state-level survey of perceptions of carbon capture and storage, and it is significant that it was conducted in a state that relies heavily on coal and where carbon capture and storage facilities would probably be sited. Developers of plants at Edwardsport, Ind., and Rockport, Ind., propose using CCS.

Carley said public opinion on carbon capture and storage can make or break deployment at the scale necessary to make a meaningful reduction in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Several carbon capture and storage facilities have been canceled for economic reasons, but public opposition blocked a project in Germany.

John GrahamThe U.S. Department of Energy and coal and utility companies have generally favored carbon capture and storage, while environmental groups are divided, with some supporting it as an interim measure and others arguing for rejecting coal as an energy source. Other organizations may oppose the technology because they reject the idea that human activities cause climate change. As specific carbon capture and storage projects are proposed, supporters and opponents are likely to step up their efforts to win over public opinion.

The study included a two-wave survey of 1,000 adult Indiana residents in the summer of 2011. Respondents were initially contacted and interviewed by phone about politics, energy, climate change and related topics. Those who agreed to participate were mailed a one-page fact sheet and diagram about carbon capture and storage. They were then interviewed about CCS.

In the second interview, nearly three-fourths of respondents agreed that "storing carbon dioxide underground is a good approach to protecting the environment." However, 80 percent had not heard of carbon capture and storage before being contacted for the survey. And opinions tended to be lukewarm. Only 36 percent expressed "strong" support for or opposition to CCS, while a majority agreed or disagreed "somewhat" with the idea.

"People appear now to hold more intermediate views of CCS," Carley said. "Information could potentially sway these individuals toward a stronger pro or con position, which could eventually affect the viability of CCS deployment in the state."

The study was funded by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.