Climate Corner: More fracked gas is a dead end

Mar 23, 2024

Eric Engle

It’s clearer than ever that, for residents of Ohio and greater Appalachia, the fracking “boom” has turned out to be a bust. The Appalachian Hydrogen Hub will only be another dead end for our region but it’s not too late to turn back.

More than a decade ago, the shale gas industry held all the right cards. Decision-makers were lavishing fracking developers with tax cuts and publicly funded subsidies. Gas production in the early 2010s was soaring, outpacing even the most optimistic pre-boom estimates. Between 2008, when gas development first began in earnest in the Marcellus and Utica shales, and 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest fracking counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia saw their economic output swell by nearly 90%, a rate more than four times the national average. Business was booming. Elected officials and industry boosters promised the fracking industry’s success meant prosperity for Appalachia, that our region would soon see hundreds of thousands of new jobs and a bona fide economic renaissance.

But those promises of prosperity never came true. During the same period of soaring output, families closest to the booming gas economy were actually having a harder time finding jobs. Many residents left the region entirely, due in no small part to the human toll of fracking operations. A litany of epidemiological studies began to demonstrate the connections between shale gas development and serious health impacts for nearby residents, including respiratory problems, heart-related complications, mental health issues, birth defects, and an outsized risk of rare cancers. Data show that those same fracking counties collectively lost more than 10,000 net jobs and almost 47,000 residents by 2021.

Fracking for methane gas hasn’t worked for our communities. In fact, for most people, it’s done nothing but harm. That’s why we can’t afford to keep continuing down the same gas-lined path.

But the industry is pulling all the stops to continue our region’s reliance on fossil fuels. Their latest ploy? The Appalachian Hydrogen Hub, or ARCH2, a gas-powered network of industrial facilities, power stations, and pipelines geared to create “blue” hydrogen, which uses costly, experimental carbon capture technology to reduce some smokestack emissions.

ARCH2 claims that blue hydrogen is “clean” energy, that their sprawling complex of heavy industry, fossil-fired power generation, and expanded fracking operations will somehow reduce the region’s net greenhouse gas emission output. That claim is far from the truth. Recent peer-reviewed research on lifecycle emissions shows that, in fact, 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. And because blue hydrogen uses fracked gas as a feedstock, greenlighting ARCH2 would mean more expanding fracking operations, generating even more pollution and climate-warming emissions.

Yet, as concerned residents prepare for the Department of Energy’s upcoming virtual listening session on ARCH2 — scheduled for March 27 at 6 p.m. — the hydrogen hub has already made significant choices about their plans, including how hydrogen will be produced and what companies are involved. To date, no information about project sites has been publicly provided. For too long, we’ve been kept in the dark. Still, we can’t allow the high-risk, low-reward Appalachian Hydrogen Hub to move forward without making our voice heard.

Sign up to speak at the ARCH2 listening session on March 27 at 6 p.m. to make sure federal officials hear your concerns. Fracking has already had its chance, and ARCH2 just means more of the same — the same pollution and the same broken economic promises. With our region at a crossroads, it’s time to build a better future for our communities. Register at


Eric Engle is board president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.