The Bark - Edition 17

The Bark is your early warning system. A signal that bad corporate actors are trying to bend the rules or pollute without accountability. It’s a heads up that anti-environmental forces in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C. are trying to eliminate environmental protections or give handouts to polluters. The Bark is PennFuture ringing the alarm bells to alert the general public of major attacks on our clean air, clean water, public land, and climate. We hope we don’t have to send you The Bark often, but we’ll be sure to keep you informed as we watchdog Pennsylvania’s polluters.

Welcome back to another edition of The Bark. 

In The Bark’s previous edition, we told you about a contingent of state lawmakers who were trying to undercut and undermine our democracy by making it harder to vote in Pennsylvania.

In this edition, we want to alert you to a new scheme by the fracked gas industry to extend its shelf life amid a global push to reach net-zero emissions. Simply put, fossil fuel boosters see the writing on the wall, and they understand the future of our planet relies on society’s ability to transition to a clean energy economy that utilizes renewable and clean energy, not dirty fossil fuels like fracked gas and coal. 

So what’s their solution to ensure they can continue to exploit our natural resources for as long as possible, while simultaneously destroying our environment and climate in the name of profit? One word: hydrogen. 

First, a brief explanation: hydrogen—a colorless, odorless and very flammable gas—is being hyped as the fuel of the future, one that has no carbon and therefore doesn’t emit any when burned. Proponents of hydrogen claim it can be the next “bridge fuel” that will buy society more time until renewable energy becomes cheaper, more widespread and more feasible for large-scale use. 

If the “bridge fuel” argument sounds familiar, it’s because the fracked gas industry has used it since its inception. Society can use fracked gas to wean itself off dirtier fuels like coal, industry boosters claimed, and then eventually fracked gas would be phased out once renewable options are more widely available. 

The problem, in both the case of hydrogen and fracked gas, is that industry boosters have absolutely no intention of phasing their product out of the mix. To that end, about 95 percent of hydrogen currently on the market is sourced from fracked gas, which means tremendous amounts of methane—an extremely potent greenhouse gas—are released when it’s burned. 

There are many different forms of hydrogen, each with a corresponding color code. By a wide margin, “gray” hydrogen sourced from fracked gas is the most popular form of hydrogen on the market. As mentioned above, about 95 percent of hydrogen currently available is of the “gray” variety. 

Another major form is called “blue” hydrogen, which is essentially the same thing as gray hydrogen, except carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS) is used to capture the carbon emitted during the process of creating the hydrogen. The major problem with blue hydrogen is that CCS technology is both extremely expensive and unproven on a large scale. Even if the technical hurdles can be overcome, it will never be cheaper than gray hydrogen. 

The last major form is called “green” hydrogen, in which renewable energy sources are used to split and separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen atoms found in water. This process, called electrolysis, can be truly clean and net-zero, but is still inefficient and costly. We are much better off using renewable energy directly wherever possible. Unfortunately, green hydrogen only comprises about .1 percent of all global hydrogen production.

The bottom line is that in almost every scenario, hydrogen is not a feasible option for lowering our carbon footprint. Of all the attention surrounding this emerging issue, only green hydrogen can be lauded as decreasing carbon emissions in a cost-effective way for large scale industry and commerce.

Even within that frame, PennFuture only supports green hydrogen if clean, renewable energy sources are not available as a substitute. Green hydrogen can play a limited role in decarbonizing our economy but, by and large, hydrogen is being put forth by industry and powerful politically influential boosters to prolong the use and tenuous financial viability of fracked gas and fossil fuels. 

Our climate-fragile world needs leadership and ambitious investments in renewables with an emphasis on the positive domestic and international job growth they bring. We do not need another scamming of our country that has dangerously positioned hydrogen as a climate savior through a massive public relations campaign by industry, backed by uncourageous elected officials and complicit academics. 

All you need to know about the hydrogen issue comes from a quote from one Pennsylvania entrepreneur who is planning a $410 million hydrogen and carbon capture plant in Clinton County, in north central Pennsylvania. 

Nevermind that the technology doesn’t yet exist to allow for large-scale carbon capture, or that basing a new hydrogen economy on fracked gas wouldn’t get us any closer to our net-zero goals. The only thing this entrepreneur is focused on, like many others in his field, is concocting a “lifeline for the oil and gas industry in an increasingly carbon conscious world.” 

“Thank God, if you’re in the Marcellus (shale fracked gas) industry,” the entrepreneur told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August, “that this is not the end of natural gas.” 

Don’t be fooled by yet another public relations campaign by the fracked gas industry. Understand what hydrogen really is: another way for the fossil fuel industry to extend its lifespan in a world that neither needs it or wants it.


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