Climate Corner: Blue hydrogen hub a bad idea for the Ohio Valley
Feb 4, 2023
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, perhaps better known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations received up to $7 billion to establish six to 10 regional hydrogen hubs across the country under what is known as the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program. The rules for the program mandate that at least one of the hubs must produce hydrogen from fossil fuels. The Ohio River Valley region (including West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) is under consideration for this fossil fuels-based hub.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “Because hydrogen does not exist freely in nature and is only produced from other sources of energy, it is known as an energy carrier. It is a clean-burning fuel, and when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces heat and electricity with only water vapor as a by-product.” Hydrogen shows promise in decarbonizing hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy like steel- and cement-making, aviation, and international shipping.
This hub would generate hydrogen from methane (aka “natural”) gas coupled with carbon capture and sequestration technology. This type of hydrogen is more casually known as blue hydrogen. This region is being looked upon favorably for a blue hydrogen hub because of its existing infrastructure, a large number of potential industrial end users, a favorable regulatory and political environment, and favorable geologic formations (both natural and man-made) for carbon sequestration. This hub would be yet another fossil fuels-driven quagmire and is the last thing this region needs.
As pointed out by the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), an independent, nonprofit research and communications center founded in 2020, a blue hydrogen hub would mean more fracking (and all the pollution that comes with it), increased costs to ratepayers, more pipelines, and few new jobs, all while failing to address the climate crisis and pulling resources away from real climate solutions, such as investing in clean, renewable energy.
The Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) administers a website called carboncapturefacts.org, an indispensable site for understanding the plethora of safety and health threats, immense costs, and lack of viability of carbon capture and sequestration technologies and methodologies. The West Virginia Legislature has already passed legislation, Senate Bills 161 and 162, that would allow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to sell, lease or dispose of property under its control under certain circumstances (SB 161) and to lease state-owned pore spaces beneath state forests, wildlife management areas and other lands under DNR’s jurisdiction for use in carbon sequestration projects (SB 162). These bills were written with the blue hydrogen hub in mind and passed after the Senate suspended state constitutional rules requiring bills be read on three separate days in order to pass both bills on just one day, the second day of the 2023 legislative session.
To quote from the SEHN site, “For a CO2 storage site to be considered suitable, it must have (a) adequate total capacity for the intended load of CO2; (b) must allow the injection of CO2 at the desired pressure and rate without breaking the underground geology; (c) must provide evidence that it will not leak CO2 in the future — the existence of fissures, cracks, fractures, faults must be completely ruled out, and ideally the site would have two layers of impermeable ‘cap rock’ above the pressurized CO2 to stop the upward flow of dangerous hazardous-waste CO2. All this investigation of the geology must take place a mile below ground without compromising the geologic integrity of the storage site. In addition, any old exploratory boreholes and abandoned oil or gas wells must be located and permanently sealed.
West Virginia has more than 4,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that have been documented, but there are likely more. Will all the wells be located and permanently capped before CO2 is injected? How long will that take?
Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit climate and environmental education and advocacy organization for which I am Board President, is partnering with numerous other organizations and groups to oppose the development of a blue hydrogen hub in the Ohio River Valley region. We strongly oppose a blue hydrogen hub in the region for the reasons outlined above but know that numerous powerful and wealthy interests are already committed to seeing the hub to fruition.
If West Virginia continues to pursue a fossil fuel-based hub we must ensure that the project ensures strong safeguards and the maximum benefits possible for our communities, workers and environment. This includes:
* limiting end uses to hard-to-electrify needs that don’t already have better alternatives.
* ensuring users are close to the site of hydrogen production to minimize infrastructure and the associated risk of leaks and accidents.
* requiring robust monitoring, reporting, and mitigation of pollutants, including hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide leaks.
* a safety assessment of any transportation infrastructure.
* meaningfully engaging workers and residents, especially those in environmental justice communities.
Hydrogen produced by separating water molecules via electrolysis powered by renewable energies like solar and wind, aka green hydrogen, is the only sensible means of obtaining hydrogen. The Ohio River Valley deserves better after decades of fossil fuels and chemicals industry exploitation than this proposed blue hydrogen hub.
Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.