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Project: Acceptance by Proxy: Analyzing Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing to Better Understand Public Acceptance for Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide

Research Team: Josh Wolff and Howard Herzog

Sponsor: Carbon Sequestration Initiative

Year: 2015

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) represents an important pathway for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate climate change. However, there is significant uncertainty about how the technology will be accepted by the public, which is difficult to predict for relatively unknown technologies such as CCS. As such, this thesis explores the use of a similar but better-known technology—hydraulic fracturing—as an analogue for learning lessons about public acceptance of the geologic storage component of CCS. The thesis asks two questions: (1) What factors are associated with public acceptance of geologic storage? And (2) What actions should communities, regulators, and stakeholders take to ensure the safe and efficient deployment of CCS technology?

The thesis investigates these questions using three separate but related analyses. A series of regressions explores links between states' history of fossil fuel extraction and current regulatory attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing. A comparative case study characterizes trends in the development of laws and regulations related to hydraulic fracturing in three states: Pennsylvania, New York State, and Colorado. Finally, a survey identifies factors associated with positive and negative public perceptions of both hydraulic fracturing and CCS. The survey includes an experimental question that measures the extent to which compensation can be used to improve public acceptance for facility siting.

Through these analyses, the thesis reaches several conclusions. States with an extensive history of fossil fuel extraction are more likely to regulate hydraulic fracturing with a moderate level of regulatory stringency, and similar tendencies toward CCS are likely. Municipalities are playing an increasingly significant role in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, and are likely to be important stakeholders for CCS projects as well. A number of demographic and worldview factors are associated with public acceptance, but none were found to have substantial predictive power. However, the amount of compensation offered to nearby residents was found to have a moderate effect on public acceptance. Developers should therefore consider compensation a tool for increasing the likelihood of acceptance among residents nearby a potential project site. Policymakers should in turn institute market incentives such as robust carbon prices to foster a financial environment that encourages developers to engage with municipalities and residents.

Wolff, J. "Acceptance by Proxy: Analyzing Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing to Better Understand Public Acceptance for Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide," M.I.T. Masters Thesis, May (2015). <PDF>

Wolff, J. and H. Herzog, "What lessons can hydraulic fracturing teach CCS about social acceptance?," Energy Procedia, Vol 63, pp 7024-7042, (2014). <PDF>