The Hawaii Carbon Dioxide Ocean Sequestration Field Experiment: A Case Study in Public Perceptions and Institutional Effectiveness

In December 1997, an international project agreement was signed in Kyoto for a collaborative study of the direct injection of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean.  After a detailed international site selection process, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), a quasi-governmental organization, was chosen as the host for the project in March 1998.  In addition to fulfilling the necessary technical criteria, NELHA maintained an ocean research corridor, and it was impressed upon the project team that this could facilitate the permitting process.  International steering and technical committees served as advisors to the Hawaii-based project general contractor, Pacific International Center for High Technology Research.  The committees also planned a multi-year public outreach program to engage residents of Hawaii about the carbon sequestration project.

Before the outreach program began, a reporter wrote about the planned carbon sequestration experiment in a March 18, 1999 front-page article in the local newspaper, West Hawaii Today.  As a result, some members of the community started organizing an opposition to the project, culminating in the creation of the “Coalition Against CO2 Dumping.”  Concerns raised by the opposition included the environmental impacts on the ocean ecology, Not-In-My-Backyard feelings, anti-fossil fuel sentiment, and issues regarding native Hawaiian sovereignty.  The project team reacted by implementing a dual public relations and outreach strategy, creating a website, responding to hundreds of emails and letters, and holding public meetings.  A major fallout from the opposition was that permitting became much more difficult, involving multiple agencies on the state and federal level.  In addition, the controversy affected the project’s relationship to its NELHA host and caught the attention of the Hawaii state legislature.  After the project team conducted an Environmental Assessment, US Department of Energy issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), an important milestone in the permitting process.

This thesis summarizes the events from project start through the issuing of the FONSI, discusses the lessons learned from the experience, and provides recommendations for institutions dealing with public perception issues in future projects.

de Figueiredo, M.A., D.M. Reiner, and H.J. Herzog, “Ocean Carbon Sequestration: A Case Study in Public and Institutional Perceptions,” Proceedings of 6th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT-6), Volume I, J. Gale and Y. Kaya (Eds.), Elsevier, pp 799-804, (2003). <PDF>

de Figueiredo, M.A., “The Hawaii Carbon Dioxide Ocean Sequestration Field Experiment: A Case Study in Public Perceptions and Institutional Effectiveness,” M.I.T. Masters Thesis, (2002). <PDF>


Howard Herzog Senior Research Engineer

MIT Energy Initiative

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