Don’t Be Fooled by the Hydrogen Hype

hydrogen fuel© Scharfsinn86 / Getty Images / Canva

EDITOR: Contrary to the October 14th article entitled “PA Wants to Be a Leader in Hydrogen and Clean Energy Manufacturing“, reliance on hydrogen as a fuel source will result in massive amounts of air pollution, even with carbon capture and sequestration, which still has yet to become a proven technology in spite of billions of dollars in government subsidies. The amount of gas drilling required to power hydrogen manufacturing will result in massive emissions of methane and other air pollution and, unfortunately, there are further government subsidies for hydrogen fuel manufacturing that Pennsylvania appears eager to receive.

Hydrogen manufacturing is simply the process of superheating water and isolating the resultant hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen production can be powered by any source of energy, but it is mostly likely that a natural gas fueled hydrogen plant will emerge in Pennsylvania. Even if renewable electricity like wind and solar was used to create hydrogen fuel, it would simply be a waste of clean energy to use it to create another fuel. Why are we attempting to turn energy sources into other energy sources? What is the benefit for the public? To reduce air pollution and our contribution to climate change we should simply focus on electrifying our cars and communities, generating renewable electricity from wind and solar, and reducing our consumption of electricity.

The current push for hydrogen fuel manufacturing will lock the country into decades of increased gas drilling, simply to turn gas into another fuel. Gas drilling is a large source of climate-changing methane pollution, smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOC), and known carcinogens like benzene. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas and petroleum systems create 32% of the country’s methane emissions, the single largest source and methane has 87 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period. Currently the state legislature has stalled the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s rule to regulate methane and VOC pollution from existing gas wells and compressor stations and the EPA will soon publish its own updated standard to lower pollution from the gas industry which will require years to implement. Without rules requiring reductions in gas drilling pollution, increased drilling to create hydrogen fuel will endanger public health in Pennsylvania.

Clean Air Task Force recently published a study concluding that more than 3 million Pennsylvanians are exposed to increased cancer risks caused by gas drilling, the most of any state in the country. The gas industry can make simple upgrades to reduce air pollution including converting to electric or air driven pneumatic pressure control devices that don’t release methane and VOCs when pressure becomes too great at well sites and compressor stations. Oil and gas facilities can also increase air monitoring to quickly identify malfunctioning equipment while ending the wasteful practice of routine gas flaring. Reducing methane leakage and flaring gas only in emergency situations will reduce air pollution, protect public health, and actually save gas! We must reduce our reliance on gas while ensuring that current gas drilling is done in the safest way possible. Leaping into a generation of hydrogen fuel manufacturing will lock us into decades of increased gas drilling and dangerous air pollution.


Russell Zerbo, 
Advocate at Clean Air Council
Philadelphia, PA

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