Tomakomai Part 2 – carbon dioxide storage and much much more

The end of a second full day in the weird and wonderful world of Tomakomai – home to Japan’s first integrated carbon dioxide capture and storage project and, as I learned today, much much more than that.

As I’ve alluded to many times before, with this being my first piece of fieldwork outside of the UK, I am finding that every day outside of more formalized interviews is like a mini-participant observation. The first cultural lesson of today is that ice hockey is integral to Tomakomai’s culture – the citizens love it. One of my guides for the day from the Business and Industry department at city hall told me it started when the Oji Paper Factory in town set up a team. Today, ice hockey is revered to the extent that it pervades the built environment.

Ice hockey drain cover - are you sure this isn't Canada?

Ice hockey drain cover – are you sure this isn’t Canada?

Buoyed by my success yesterday at stumbling across a good café, I decided to eschew a morning of working in the hotel and Googled to see if I could find somewhere to enjoy a brew while working on (yet more) paper revisions. I was not disappointed, for the first result that came up was the O-Uchi Café, this rather trendy spot with excellent coffee not far from city hall. Come to study the CCS demonstration, and you will also leave the city well-caffeinated. With violent sports to watch, big energy projects to study, and excellent coffee to drink, I could be persuaded to move to Tomakomai…

O-Uchi Cafe by day, Bar Old by night

O-Uchi Cafe by day, Bar Old by night

Just like a physical scientist.

Just like a physical scientist.

The main activity of the day was visiting the site of the demonstration project, at which I got to see the various engagement tools the Japan CCS Company use, and was given a brief tour of the construction site – during which I fulfilled a life-long ambition of doing fieldwork that necessitated the wearing of a hard hat (see right). Even for a social scientist studying public perception, I feel it’s important to get a good sense of what the development of an actual energy project is like, hence I was very grateful to be allowed to have a look round the injection site on the south side of Tomakomai Port (once I’ve reflected more on what I saw, I will write a more detailed post on the CCS project and its governance and progress).

The Tomakomai CCS demonstration site

The Tomakomai CCS demonstration site, under construction

The carbon dioxide will be pumped from onshore through horizontally-drilled wells into the geological formations deep under the seabed. Wandering around the site and seeing big energy infrastructure all around, planes soaring overhead and piles of rubbish at the seaside unconnected to the new developments, I was reminded yet again of the much wider context of environmental change and ‘pollution’ within which CCS sits.

The sea with flotsam and jettison.

The sea with flotsam and jettison.

The day finished with a tour of some of the other energy-related things going on in and around Tomakomai, most notably mega-solar developments. Virtually everywhere we went, my two guides were pointing out massive fields of solar panels. From what I could glean all of the energy generated from these solar panels will stay in Hokkaido to be used by the island’s residents and industries, which might go some way to explaining the apparent lack of opposition to this new infrastructure. It was also very moving and impressive to see such an effort being made to move towards renewable energy sources, perhaps setting an example that the rest of Japan and the wider world could follow.

Mega-solar east of Tomakomai

Mega-solar east of Tomakomai

Energy and industry – a big part of life in Tomakomai, it would seem. Much more thinking and analysis to do yet, though.

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