Three states have joined forces in hopes of creating a regional hydrogen hub that would power them more cleanly. The governors of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma signaled on Thursday that they would work together to submit a proposal to the Department of Energy on taking hydrogen from feedstock to fuel product. In a press release issued by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Democrat touted the states’ “long history of producing and transporting fuels and feedstocks in liquid and gas forms, as well as significant population of industrial end-users with potential to make use of hydrogen as fuel or as part of manufacturing processes.” Hydrogen as a fuel source is a fairly green alternative to fossil fuels. Its problem? Extraction still unleashes massive amounts of greenhouse gases, which Bel Edwards and his counterparts want to address by using the somewhat ineffective technique of carbon capture, specifically “capturing the waste carbon and injecting it into permanent underground storage zones.”
According to a recent presentation held by the Deep South Center For Environmental Justice, Louisianans in particular are opposed to the capture and underground storage of carbon, with some 28 public comments being made in opposition. Additionally, carbon capture will only minimally impact Louisiana and similar states’ net-zero ambitions. According to the Center for Progressive Reform’s President and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Professor Rob Verchick, the best-case scenario of carbon capture and sequestration for Louisiana amounts to a reduction of just under 10 million metric tons. “It’s a rounding error, almost,” Verchick said. “It doesn’t seem like a very good investment. It seems like a much better investment would be in… looking at technologies to make ammonia and other chemical products without using high heat.”
Still, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma see this as an opportunity to secure some funding and move forward with at least an alternative to their rampant production of fossil fuels. “We believe that creating as many end-use cases for commercialization with as many private partners is the quickest and best mechanism to spur real demand for this clean energy,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said. “The resources and opportunities in Oklahoma are complementary to our partners and tailor-made for a diverse hub application to compete with others around the country.” What the three governors don’t say is they stand to receive millions from the funds allocated by the Biden administration as part of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act. Approximately $8 billion has been allocated to go toward hydrogen hubs in particular and the Department of Energy has extended its deadline for applications until March 21.
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Two other hydrogen hub projects have been proposed, reports the Associated Press. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming entered into a similar partnership in February and announced their intentions to create a hydrogen hub in the Rocky Mountain region. The utility company SoCalGas unveiled its own proposal for a hydrogen hub in the Los Angeles Basin earlier this month, touting an ambitious goal of reaching net-zero by 2045 and claiming that hydrogen would play a critical role in hitting that milestone. As Verchick notes, given the slim return of investment in carbon capture—which is critical to cleaner hydrogen production—states would be better off investing in technologies being explored in Europe, such as making chemicals like ammonia without the use of high heat, which could effectively make the compound much less damaging.
Plus, Verchick adds, the oversight simply hasn’t historically been there. “The last legislative audit found that [Louisiana’s] agency did not sufficiently monitor [injection] wells. It did not sufficiently inspect those facilities. And it did not go after known violators,” Verchick said. "And so how do you, even if you believe in the technology, even if you’re willing to spend the money, how do you get past that problem? If you don’t have state agencies that are actively monitoring and inspecting and going after those violators, none of this works at all.”