LONDON (Reuters) - Oil giant Shell says that it is working to explain to Canadians that underground carbon storage is safe, following rejection in the Netherlands.
Energy companies want to show they can both burn cheap coal and gas and hit climate targets by trapping carbon emissions and pumping these underground.
The process is untested on a commercial scale, a factor behind vocal rejection from residents in the Netherlands, where Shell wanted to store CO2 underground near the small town of Barendrecht.
"It is clear that we need to tell the story better about why onshore storage would be helpful," Graeme Sweeney, head of CO2 at Royal Dutch Shell told Reuters energy and climate summit.
"We have worked very, very hard with the local communities in Alberta," he added, referring to a series of workshops.
"The Dutch government decided not to continue with the permitting process and in part that was a result of local concerns."
Shell plans to grow production from oil sands in Canada, said Sweeney, in an energy-hungry practice which he said emitted 5-15 percent more CO2 than conventional oil production, from the oil well to use in the car.
Building a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project would help eliminate those extra emissions, he said, as the company tries to convince investors that its assets can withstand tighter climate regulations.
The Anglo-Dutch company will make a final decision next year pending permissioning and community approval for its onshore "Quest" CCS project.
"We are currently negotiating the financial agreement with the authorities in Canada. If we make good progress, we expect to take a financial investment decision on that next year.
"It is also clear that if local communities won't give permission, the projects will not proceed," Sweeney said.
Safety may be less of a worry where CO2 is piped offshore and stored under the sea-bed.
Possible concerns about onshore storage could include impacts on groundwater or property prices. A theoretical worry which academics say is extremely unlikely is that invisible gas may seep through a kilometer or more of bedrock to the surface, where it could suffocate people if it collected in one place.
"These reservoirs tend to be very deep, much, much deeper than the structures which would be used for drinking water," Sweeney said.
In southern Canada, a test project injecting CO2 into the active Weyburn oilfield has seen no detectable leakage, said a CCS expert, Edinburgh University's Stuart Haszeldine.
The CO2 risk was smaller than a potential risk to groundwater from the oil sands operations themselves, he said.
(Writing by Gerard Wynn; editing by James Jukwey)