Climate Corner: ‘Blue’ hydrogen is not the answer

Nov 25, 2023

Eric Engle

I’m writing this weekend’s Climate Corner column in response to a column from last weekend’s edition of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel regarding the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen (ARCH2) hub proposed for the Ohio River Valley. Before I directly address ARCH2, though, I’d like to make a few things clear.

I myself am a union steward and a recruiter/membership coordinator for my union chapter. My maternal grandfather was a union member who worked for Pennzoil in the oil fields of Calhoun County. My father was a union member at an area plastics plant from which he retired. I had numerous family members and loved ones who were union members at the Ames plant in Davisville before it closed down.

Speaking not only for myself but for Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action as an organization, we stand unwaveringly with organized labor and want union contracts and collective bargaining rights to be economy-wide. We deeply admire what the United Auto Workers, SAG-AFTRA and numerous other unions across the country have accomplished this year with a record number of strikes and labor actions.

When it comes to ARCH2, unfortunately, it’s just not the promising initiative last week’s writer suggested. This is not because hydrogen production itself is a bad idea or negative thing; hydrogen shows immense promise in decarbonizing hard-to-decarbonize sectors like steel and cement-making, international shipping and aviation. The problem here is with what is referred to as “blue” hydrogen, which is hydrogen derived from methane gas by splitting off the carbon atoms and utilizing carbon capture and storage technology to address the resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

First of all, blue hydrogen production will increase the demand for methane gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in our region. Fracking is extraordinarily polluting, dangerous and destructive from start to finish. For a deep dive into the huge array of harms from fracking, please check out the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure, ninth edition, at The compendium is published annually by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, a program of the Science and Environmental Health Network, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Secondly, in large part because of fracking, but also because of unaddressed methane emissions, a 2021 study by Robert W. Howarth of Cornell University and Mark Jacobson of Stanford University found that blue hydrogen has a 20% greater greenhouse gas footprint than burning natural gas or coal directly for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat. This study even assumed that carbon dioxide can be stored indefinitely, which the authors described as “an optimistic and unproven assumption.”

“Unproven” is a word you’ll hear a lot regarding carbon capture and storage technologies and processes. A more apt word, after decades of research and years of federal subsidies, would be “disproven.” Carbon capture and storage has not been shown to successfully capture and store even a fraction of the CO2 necessary to make any difference in reaching the emissions reduction goals of any nation. For a deeper dive into the dangers, immense costs and lack of viability of carbon capture and storage, please visit, a website created and administered by the Science and Environmental Health Network.

What’s happening at other proposed hydrogen hubs across the country and allegedly for parts of ARCH2 is the production of what is referred to as “green” hydrogen. Green hydrogen is derived from separation of water molecules using an electrolysis process powered by renewable energies like solar and wind. This should be the only method of hydrogen production utilized by the ARCH2 project. Institutional Shareholder Services, an international shareholder advisory firm, cited estimates that green hydrogen will be more cost effective than blue hydrogen by or before 2030 in its finding that there is “significant risk of stranded assets for blue hydrogen investments” in a 2022 analysis.

Producing green hydrogen can still create good-paying, union jobs in the Ohio River Valley, but the economic potential doesn’t stop there. A report for the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI) titled “Green Steel in the Ohio River Valley” found that switching to fossil fuel-free direct reduced iron-electric arc furnace (DRI-EAF) steelmaking fueled by green hydrogen would boost total steelmaking jobs by 27% to 43% by 2031 with nearly zero climate-warming emissions.

Hydrogen isn’t all that shows true, clean economic promise. A study titled “A Bigger Bang Approach to Economic Development” by the Ohio State University Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy found that “A new economic development model centering on high-multiplier investments in energy efficiency, weatherization, distributed generation, and education could help struggling Appalachian communities spark job, population, and income growth.” You can read the complete studies referenced above at

The answers to our economic woes are not to be found in shale gas and oil. To quote from the ORVI website, “Since the beginning of the shale gas boom in 2008, the largest gas-producing counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have lost more than 10,000 net jobs and nearly 47,000 residents.” The ORVI information continues, “Efforts to spark a petrochemical renaissance with the region’s abundant natural gas reserves have similarly produced poor economic outcomes.”

Some $169 million is being made available under the Defense Production Act by the Department of Energy’s Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains to build 15 heat pump manufacturing facilities across the U.S., including Ohio and Pennsylvania. Heat pump units both heat and cool homes very efficiently and effectively and can make great replacements for gas utilities as the price of the units continues to fall and point-of-purchase subsidies are provided for households under the Inflation Reduction Act.

ARCH2 isn’t a done deal. More community engagement is being planned, and changes can be made. Blue hydrogen, though, isn’t the answer.


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.