Tisha’s Insights

Both True: Is Hydrogen’s Promise Threatened?

May 18, 2022 Tisha Schuller
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Since I last wrote about hydrogen, in September 2021, interest in hydrogen as a pillar of the energy future has gained enormous momentum. The infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in November dedicated $9.5 billion to support the hydrogen industry and prompted 14 states and hundreds of private companies to partner to apply for regional hydrogen hubs.

The voices of opposition have also gained momentum. Beyond the typical NIMBY concerns, hydrogen opposition includes letters to Congress, eNGO reports, and academic research that call into question the climate benefit of this low-carbon fuel. Although the groundswell of hydrogen opposition is hampered by extensive credibility issues, that opposition signals an existential threat to hydrogen’s opportunity to play a significant role in mitigating carbon emissions.

Climate hawks and oil and gas industry executives alike should be alarmed.

Game-changing oil and gas leaders bear a particular responsibility to engage now on hydrogen — specifically, to engage proactively, constructively, and holistically in conversations about the risks, promise, opportunities, and downsides of hydrogen development. Synergies in pipeline infrastructure, workforce expertise, and industry tenure mean the oil and gas industry is better suited than anyone else to operationalize and foster widespread hydrogen adoption. Leading in creating green growth opportunities is our civic responsibility. We must block out the noise of those who claim our green growth initiatives are insincere.

Both of these things are true:

  • Hydrogen is gaining tremendous momentum among regulators, investors, and consumers worldwide, and our industry is poised to lead its development.
  • Rising opposition to hydrogen threatens its widespread adoption before it gets off the ground.

The Situation

By early 2021, more than 30 countries had released hydrogen roadmaps, the industry had announced more than 200 hydrogen projects and investment plans, and governments worldwide had committed more than $70 billion in public funding. Sounds like momentum, right? But to understand how best to deliver on the considerable promise of hydrogen, we must first understand the considerable opposition to hydrogen:

  • Concern #1: Hydrogen could be bad for the climate. Both the Environmental Defense Fund and a 2021 study by scientists at Cornell and Stanford Universities concluded that hydrogen that the purported climate benefits of blue hydrogen have been vastly overstated.
  • Concern #2: Hydrogen will prop up the fossil fuel industry. Several eNGOs signed on to a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, arguing that “fossil fuel industry efforts to use carbon capture, blue hydrogen, and various new ‘advanced’ energy fuels to greenwash activities will support a new era of fossil fuel and petrochemical development.” Earthjustice released a widely circulated report condemning hydrogen as a false solution. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said the city should be “careful to guard against people throwing in a little bit of supposed green hydrogen to greenwash gases that are destroying the planet.”
  • Concern #3: Hydrogen projects could harm low-income communities. The eNGO letter cited above argued, “These infrastructure projects raise significant public health and climate concerns. Rather than addressing the climate crisis, they will instead result in continuing harm to communities on the front lines of the extraction, transportation, refining and combustion of fossil fuels.” Twenty-five eNGOs and allied organizations wrote in a letter to the State of New York Public Service Commission that the proposed New York hydrogen hub would “incentivize further adverse and disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities.”

Understanding the primary claims against expanded us of hydrogen allows forward-thinking leaders to consider how to engage stakeholders in a proactive effort to understand and mitigate concerns and risks associated with it.

Seize the day:

The potential collaboration between the oil and gas and hydrogen industries is immense and mutually beneficial. For oil and gas, hydrogen represents a clear path to participation in a low-carbon energy future; for hydrogen, oil and gas represents a clear path to cost reduction and infrastructure development.

At Adamantine, we work with forward-thinking clients to keep the hydrogen opportunity window open by:

  • Proactively engaging: Game-changing leaders are working on hydrogen engagement today by constructively reaching out to policymakers, investors, stakeholders, and eNGOS directly on the topic of hydrogen. Companies need to listen deeply to understand stakeholder concerns. This isn’t about “education” only; it’s about understanding the landscape of concern and risk. This way, as companies participate in proactive research, demonstration projects, and policy undertakings, their efforts will addresses concerns and mitigate risk, both crucial steps to ultimate support for and adoption of hydrogen solutions.
  • Finding partners and joining in. There are numerous hydrogen collaborations under development. Two examples: We are collaborating with the Open Hydrogen Initiative that GTI Energy and Platts are leading, as well as with Stanford’s Hydrogen Initiative.
  • Getting ahead of the EJ curve. The public health and environmental justice concerns that are so important to your business are equally relevant to the future of hydrogen development. Check out the 5 things you need to know about environmental justice and Actions to take and mistakes not to make.

No one knows exactly how the energy transition will unfold, but we certainly don’t want future options ruled out for lack of engagement on our part.

Adamantine can help your company make these forward-thinking moves and understand stakeholder opposition so you feel confident charting your course. Reach out today for a consultation. If you would like to recommend Both True to a colleague, they can subscribe here.


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Both of These Things Are True

By Tisha Schuller