The Dirty Side of “Green” Hydrogen
by Jasmin Vargas and Mia DiFelice Oct 24, 2022
The City of Angels is abuzz with what proponents hail as the new frontier of clean energy: hydrogen. This year the region’s utility, SoCalGas, unveiled plans to develop green hydrogen pipelines attached to a regional hydrogen hub.
Los Angeles is only one city of many that have announced their intentions to build hydrogen infrastructure. The buzz comes after the Biden Administration announced an avalanche of cash to develop it; notably, through the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.
The industry depicts hydrogen as a miracle power source that will help us fight climate change while keeping the lights on. However, it hasn’t mentioned the massive obstacles ahead, nor their costs to us.
But we know a pivot to hydrogen stands to harm vulnerable communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, while siphoning resources from proven climate technologies.
Green Hydrogen Isn’t So GreenCompanies like SoCalGas insist that their hydrogen will be clean, but that’s a lofty promise to make when currently 95% of hydrogen energy comes from fracked gas. The other 5%, called “green” hydrogen, comes from splitting water molecules with electricity from renewable energy.
But even if industry could produce “green” hydrogen at scale, it would still be wasteful and inefficient. Compared to renewable-powered batteries, which are 80% efficient, hydrogen fuel cells are only 30%. That makes hydrogen far more expensive than renewable-based electric power.
What’s more, hydrogen is a thirsty power source. Throughout its life cycle, each megawatt-hour of “green” hydrogen consumes at least 5,000 liters of water. Compare that to solar, which uses 20 liters per MWh, or wind, which uses just 1 liter per MWh.
Climate change already threatens our water supplies. L.A. and the rest of California is in the midst of a megadrought. A huge hydrogen buildout will only make things worse.
We can’t even be sure that “green” hydrogen will actually create no emissions. Hydrogen is a very small molecule, making it more likely than methane to leak. But if it does, we are in trouble. Hydrogen molecules have a global warming potential 11 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Moreover, SoCalGas, the utility behind L.A.’s hydrogen plans, has a scary track record when it comes to leaks. In 2015, it subjected L.A. to the largest methane leak in U.S. history.
The utility’s Aliso Canyon storage facility leaked for 100 days. SoCalGas failed to monitor the facility properly or immediately report the leak to officials, leading to the evacuation of thousands of residents. Now consider this: hydrogen leaks are even less regulated than methane leaks.
Green Hydrogen Risks Dangers in Our Homes and BackyardsHydrogen poses other health and safety risks to communities. It’s volatile and flammable, even more so than fracked gas. Hydrogen pipelines have already caused explosions, posing major dangers to communities near that infrastructure. Moreover, hydrogen is currently stored as ammonia, a hazardous chemical that can cause death in high concentrations.
Public health risks go beyond pipelines and facilities and into homes. Utilities have proposed blending hydrogen with methane in power plants and utility lines to burn for home heating.
Not only is this wildly inefficient compared to electric heating — burning hydrogen can lead to nitrogen oxide pollution six times greater than burning fracked gas. Such pollution is an ingredient for particulate matter and ozone, which cause respiratory illnesses that already plague frontline communities.
These communities, disproportionately home to people of color, have been sacrifice zones for decades of industrial activity. Hydrogen will only entrench this environmental racism.
Dirty Energy Companies Hide Behind Green HydrogenIt’s no coincidence that some of the dirtiest polluters are heavily investing in “green” hydrogen. Too often, they use these projects to greenwash the expansion of pipelines or power plants.
There’s no way we can take these companies seriously when they say they’re fighting climate change. Dirty energy utilities have hidden the dangers of climate change for decades. SoCalGas even spent ratepayer funds to lobby against climate action. And utilities are widely stalling on their climate promises: all talk, no walk.
We can’t trust companies like SoCalGas with our clean energy future. If allowed, they’ll gobble up our tax dollars through hydrogen subsidies and raise rates to help cover the expensive projects, too.
Green Hydrogen: Coming to a City Near YouIn May, Los Angeles began applying for hydrogen hub funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The City Council’s motion to authorize the applications initially included guardrails to ensure hydrogen infrastructure wouldn’t support dirty energy.
However, these guardrails disappeared before the motions was even introduced. As our senior organizer Jasmin Vargas warned: “Hydrogen is being used by fossil fuel interests to maintain their dangerous pipeline and energy infrastructure.”
In New York, construction on a “green” hydrogen plant has already broken ground. Huge hydrogen projects are heading for Texas, Louisiana, Florida and beyond.
We can’t let hydrogen continue to grow. Instead, we should be investing in community-driven solutions and shutting down this dirty infrastructure in a just transition to 100% clean energy.
We Know How To Fight Climate Change. We Don’t Need “Green” Hydrogen to Do It.Hydrogen power may make sense for a few niche uses, but using it for power is a non-starter. We are facing a massive buildout that aims to make hydrogen a major U.S. power source. That buildout means sprawling new facilities and pipelines — and more of the community sacrifice zones that always follow.
These projects are multi-billion-dollar distractions from the clean energy deployment we’ve been calling on for decades. We know that demand response, energy efficiency, and wind, solar, and geothermal electrification will fight climate change. Not only will they do so more cheaply, more efficiently, and with far less public health risks — they will create thousands of new clean energy and climate jobs.
The truth is, the climate crisis is here, and dirty energy companies want to make billions pretending to be part of the solution. We can’t let this happen. We must fight for a 100% renewable energy transition, in which no one gets left behind.
Webinar: Stop Hydrogen in Los Angeles
Here in Los Angeles, companies like SoCalGas are claiming that hydrogen is the new frontier of clean energy while conveniently leaving out the steep cost it poses to ratepayers, frontline communities, and our climate. Click here to sign up - Dec 1st, Wednesday 6:30-8pm
Updates and Actions
Scattergood Hydrogen Vote - The Scattergood Hydrogen Retrofit vote is heading to the ECCERJ committee at city council yet again on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 10:15am. This ordinance approves LADWP's $800 million dollar proposal of hydrogen modernization at Scattergood without any public input. Join us in calling the members of the Energy Committee.
Call these council members today and tomorrow:
Council President Paul Krekorian (213) 473-7002
Paul Koretz (213) 473-7005
Mitch O'Farrell (213) 473-7013
*Also, please call your own council members as well. If the motion happens to pass in committee, we need to be proactive and start mounting pressure against hydrogen in LA.
Call script to committee members: "Hello, my name is _____ and I live in _____. I'm calling to urge Council Member ____ to hold off on moving forward with Item 15 of this week's ECCERJ committee meeting which would allow for a hydrogen retrofit of the Scattergood gas plant. There is not sufficient research done by LADWP on the environmental and health impacts of hydrogen, and we cannot risk an $800 million dollar investment that would build out infrastructure that our council members and communities don't know enough about and could endanger public health. The council needs to connect with committees, especially those neighboring the facility."
Plans to Move Gas Line - It’s EMERGENCY time. As you know, the State of California, along with some of its private partners, including SoCalGas, have been planning what they call a Ballona Wetlands “restoration” for more than a decade. The longer their planning drags out, and the more questions asked by the public, the more we learn that this is - at least in part - an effort to help SoCalGas continue operating a very dangerous, toxic methane gas storage facility in, under and around the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. There are numerous lawsuits challenging the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife’s certification of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR.). While those lawsuits are winding their way through the Courts, there appears to be some urgency in the bulldozer and construction crews in wanting to get things started despite the legal challenges.
We’ve learned - through allies providing some public records to us - that the State is now planning on moving forward FAST with an effort to obtain permits for what the State is calling “Sequence #1 & #2” which is essentially obliterating functioning and historical habitat, including meandering sloughs, non-tidal pickleweed and rain-fed wetlands. At a secret meeting in July (the public was not invited, and only CERTAIN agency officials were present) where 5 (FIVE!) SoCalGas officials were present, the plans were rolled out. Including - as you can see from the images - “relocation” of an important gas pipeline.
Your voice is going to be needed in the coming months. Stay tuned, and please show up for meetings, sometimes virtual - and be ready to make calls and send in letters to decision-makers.
LA City Oil & Gas Setback - The LA City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted to move forward the ordinance to phase out oil drilling in Los Angeles. Click here to see their statement.
California Oil & Gas Setback - Right now, the oil industry is spending millions to try to crush SB1137, a law that protects Californians from oil drilling pollution by preventing new drilling in neighborhoods. They’re paying for an army of petitioners to sit outside gas stations and grocery stores across the state, gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn SB1137 and the vital protections it provides.
Petitioners are armed with a slew of oil industry misinformation to trick voters into signing.
They claim that SB1137 will drive up gas prices and lead to a complete energy shut down so they can intimidate hard working Californians struggling to pay at the pump. They have even been caught saying that the petition is to END neighborhood drilling–an outright lie to steal signatures from Californians who believe in common sense public health policy.
While their lies are fake, the damage from building more oil wells near our communities is very real. Industrial oil operations take place just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community risks of asthma, birth defects and cancer. More than 2 million people live within the 3,200 feet setback zone of an operational oil well, and California is one of the last oil producing states in the nation to allow drilling in neighborhoods.
STOP THE SCAM!
1. Do Not Sign the Petition!
Lying to voters is the only way oil companies can secure the signatures they need before the deadline on December 15, 2022. Their petition will NOT lower gas prices or end neighborhood drilling.
2. Catch Them Lying & Report It
Misrepresenting the truth to collect signatures is a criminal violation. CA’s Secretary of State is already investigating Big Oil’s sneaky tactics and is following up on all credible reports.
If you did sign, there is still time to withdraw your signature by sending your local elections official a letter containing the following:
4. Share Your Story
If you’ve been lied to by petitioners, media outlets want to hear your story.
Editorial: Careful what you sign. Petitions aren’t always what they seem
- LA Times, November 4, 2022
Fossil fuel campaigns subvert democracy by undoing California drilling laws
- CalMatters Commentary, November 3, 2022
PSA: Do Not Sign This Oil Drilling Referendum
- Knock-LA, October 24, 2022
Editorial: Oil drillers want to overturn California’s new health protections. Don’t let them
- LA Times, October 20, 2022
Calls to Action