“Hydrogen no justification for oil and gas expansion” – new paper

The use of hydrogen to help meet UK carbon targets does not justify an expansion of the onshore oil and gas industry, campaigners said today.

IGas shale gas site at Misson, Nottinghamshire. Photo: Eric Walton

A briefing paper by the Weald Action Group, a network opposing hydrocarbon developments in southern England, argued there was no need to make hydrogen from fossil fuels.

The paper was a response to recent comments by some onshore oil and gas companies that they were contributing to the UK’s net zero target by providing gas that could be used to make hydrogen.

The Weald Action Group has accepted that some parts of the economy would be difficult to decarbonise and using hydrogen as a clean fuel was a possible option.

But it argued in the paper that production of hydrogen from methane, known as grey hydrogen, produced large amounts of pollution emissions and contributed to climate change.

Production from methane using carbon capture and storage (CCS), called blue hydrogen by the industry, had lower emissions. But the briefing paper said progress to commercial-scale CCS had been “painfully slow” and:

“there are serious doubts it will be a viable option for mitigating emissions from fossil fuel hydrogen production in the next few decades.” 

The paper said green hydrogen, produced from water using renewable electricity, had very low carbon emissions and costs were falling rapidly.

The author of the paper, Ann Stewart, said:

“Hydrogen is likely to be a key piece of the jigsaw for decarbonising energy-intensive sectors such as steel and chemicals and for HGV transport, aviation and shipping – but only if it is produced from sustainable, renewable energy sources. 

“Instead of using yet more fossil fuels with their devastating impact on the climate, hydrogen can be made from water, with very low emissions. There is absolutely no justification for producing more fossil gas, in the Weald or elsewhere.”

Industry interests in hydrogen

In June last year, the fracking company, Cuadrilla, said it was “engaging in a number of existing initiatives” to use shale gas as a source of “emission-free UK energy” by 2050.

IGas announced last month that it planned to turn methane extracted at some of its sites in south east England into, initially grey hydrogen, and perhaps later into blue hydrogen.

In June 2020, Stephen Sanderson, the chief executive of UK Oil & Gas, told Surrey County Council:

“We believe that well-regulated and safely produced indigenous gas, such as Loxley [Dunsfold], represents a vital opportunity to help meet net zero targets by providing the most cost-effective solution for the future UK production of clean hydrogen fuel.”  

“Misleading claims”

The Weald Action Group’s paper said of Mr Sanderson’s comment on hydrogen:

“Such claims are misleading. At the point of use, hydrogen is a clean fuel. However, it is not freely available and has to be manufactured, either from fossil fuels or water – with very differing climate impacts.”

The paper said grey hydrogen was more carbon intensive than burning methane directly.

It described blue hydrogen, using CCS, as “still a pipe dream”. It said the UK was unlikely to have sufficient CCS capacity in the coming decades to reach net zero by 2050.

CCS would also not reduce emissions to zero, the paper said. Two flagship projects in north America removed just over 30%, it said, while an academic study of blue hydrogen production found that CCS plants captured between 53%-90% of carbon dioxide.

CCS itself was carbon intensive, the paper added, requiring additional energy.

“The higher the CO2 capture rate the greater the cost as more energy is required. The additional fossil fuels required for the capture process will, when burned, also produce other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulates.”

DrillOrDrop invited UK Oil & Gas to comment on the paper.

19 replies »

  1. The cost of Green Hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water using renewable electricity is around €150/MWh. Current Natural gas prices are around €25/MWh.

    The European Hydrogen strategy report only hopes that the price of renewable electricity and the costs for electrolyzers will fall sufficiently to bring the price of Green Hydrogen in at around €40/MWh by 2050.

    The ball is already rolling in East Yorkshire. A project called Hydrogen to Humber Saltend (H2H Saltend), will see a new plant built that will produce hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

    Initially the plant will allow industrial customers on the Saltend Chemicals Park to switch over to hydrogen and will reduce the amount of fossil fuels going into the Park’s power plant, thus cutting emissions by nearly 900,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

    Later phases have the potential to expand services to other industrial users across the Humber region.

    • Ignoring fugitive methane, ignoring the social, environmental and medical effects of methane extraction and delivery.

    • “produce hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS).” We can’t do that yet, John.

      ” will reduce the amount of fossil fuels going into the Park’s power plant, thus cutting emissions by nearly 900,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.”
      If CCS can be made functional?!

      Get your head out of the sand, John. Fossil fuels are going nowhere, despite Trump

      • A 600 megawatt reformer with CCS is going to be built at Saltend Iaith1720.

        Site clearance has already commenced.

        The gas fired power station at Saltend will then switch to a 30% Hydrogen/Nat gas fuel mix, when the reformer is operational.

  2. Important paper. Exposing Emperor’s stinky new clothes. Our gas network has been lined and upgraded in anticipation of a switch to hydrogen. The wrong direction.

  3. Hydrogen gas boiler switchover will not be far off then.

    Anyone who wishes to delay reducing emissions is going in the wrong direction. Especially during a transition period from those shouting loudest for change.

    Unfortunately the usual suspect’s with vested interests not any national interest.

  4. Arguments mainly revolve around energy generation, with very little on energy reduction. The benefits from smart meters have been realised in some quarters but progress is still too slow. By shifting electricity usage to off peak periods, the peak electricity demands are reduced; the demand curve is flattened. This could lead to the need for fewer new electricity generation complexes and reduced calls on fossil fuel fed generation plants to meet peak demands especially in winter months. Battery storage can play a part as can other methods of energy storage. For example, renewable energy can be used to compress gas, which can then be released to drive electricity generators in a similar fashion to hydroelectric generation. But much more effort and investments need to be directed towards energy reduction. Government initiatives to-date have not been sufficiently ambitious to make a significant impact on energy reduction. Hydrogen as an energy source derived from fossil fuels doesn’t make sense. Mixing hydrogen with natural gas is at best a short term solution, a distraction from achieving the ultimate goal of saving our civilisation from destructive climate change. If fusion can be made to work, providing many times more energy than is needed to create it, then the whole ball game changes and we could eventually cease using any kind of fossil fuel energy, except perhaps for specific industrial (see the report) uses where green hydrogen might be the solution. For any kind of energy, distribution is a fundamental aspect that cannot be ignored. Electricity wins here easily.

    • Malcolm

      What seems to be being suggested in the article above is more nuclear power stations like Hinckley point with the next being planned for Suffolk.

      Maybe Surrey will be after Suffolk as the amount of energy that is consumed is not decreasing & we have already had power supply interruptions this year due to a lack of wind power which had been highly proclaimed to be the game changer.

      Is throwing good money after bad really the solution?

  5. I still await the development of carbon harvesting.

    Maybe if carbon was approached from the value angle there would be more rapid moves towards utilizing carbon, rather than looking to dispose of it as a waste product.

    Then, my children and grandchildren could end up with graphene keyboards instead of plastic ones!

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