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Working with the community at the CO2CRC Otway Project
In 2008 I joined the Otway Project at Nirranda South in Victoria, the first Australian demonstration of geological carbon dioxide storage, as a part time liaison officer.
I joined the Otway Project because I felt climate change was an important global issue that I could contribute to locally, and that the project had the potential to make a real difference.
My role is to directly liaise with local landowners, manage visits to the site and be the first point of contact on the project for the local community and interested organisations.
My background is in teaching (though not science teaching) and I live locally in Port Campbell where my husband and I operate a small business.
Living locally has been a huge advantage; being local gives me insight into community relationships and guides me in the approach I take to my work. The connections I’ve made through running a small business, playing sport and my previous role as a teacher have all been useful.
One big advantage is being available; the landowners appreciate that there is someone local they can contact immediately who can talk about the project in layman terms and who keeps them up to date with face to face meetings, calls, letters and personal invitations to our regular public meetings.
Research at the site includes a comprehensive monitoring program, covering the subsurface, the soil, groundwater and the atmosphere. While CO2CRC leases the main injection site, some of the monitoring activity, such as the regular seismic surveys, occurs on adjoining dairy farms.
Managing the different demands of researchers and the landowners who are running their farming businesses is a critical part of my job, and essential to ensuring the monitoring activities of the project run smoothly. I have worked very hard to develop good relationships with the local landowners based on trust and honesty. This is important for the project but also for me as my integrity is at stake.
It has not been all smooth sailing; one of the challenges when I first started was rebuilding the trust and cooperation of the local landowners after they had experienced issues with a previous monitoring activity. This provided an important lesson for me and the Project – the need to engage with researchers as well as the community.
Working towards a solution required me to listen (not just hear) the specific concerns of the landowners and develop a solution with them and their input, mindful of working cooperatively with the researchers.
When I work with any group my philosophy is to put myself in their shoes and imagine how I would like to be treated. I think this is essential to building mutual understanding, trust and respect.
This approach led to an induction program I developed with the landowners, which all researchers undertake prior to any monitoring work on properties. The program clearly sets out the responsibilities of researchers while working on nearby properties and most importantly specifies an agreed procedure to follow if issues arise. The landowners appreciate that the project is taking their issues seriously and they feel their land and livelihood is respected. They also have a better appreciation of the researcher’s tasks.
Recent social research in 2011 is showing that this approach to communicating is paying off. A focus group of local landowners reported that they felt more respected and informed, and that communication is open and honest. They felt they had a good understanding of project operations and of CCS more broadly.
The social research results have indicated to me that we on the right track. The Otway Project has proven to be highly successful scientifically but that could not have happened without meaningful community engagement. It has not been easy or quick, and more work always needs to be done, but I feel very lucky to be involved in such a significant project in my community and proud of my contribution.
This post expresses the views of this author and not necessarily of their organisation or the Global CCS Institute.