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Good Jobs and a Just Transition into Hydrogen

By staff - IndustriALL Global Union, May 12, 2022

On 5 May, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL held a first workshop on hydrogen technology as part of the Just Transition and the Energy Sector initiative. The initiative provides a platform for unions around the world to exchange information on energy transition technologies and the jobs, skills, markets, investments, and emissions related to them.

There is no single industry that could replace the oil and gas industry, in terms of jobs and in terms of income. We must consider multiple different technologies when thinking about where jobs are going to transition to,”

said Kenneth Sandmo, Head of business and Industry Policy in the Norwegian Trade Union Confederation (LO Norway).

Putting it into perspective, Sandmo explained that Norway’s oil and gas industry employs more than 200,000 workers directly and indirectly. As the hydrogen sector is projected to create approximately 35,000 jobs in Norway, hydrogen technology shouldn’t be the only focus for trade unions.

Hydrogen technology is key for the long-term decarbonisation of energy intensive industries and sectors such as heavy transport. To get a better view of where jobs are and where they could be, the workshop looked at the value chains of oil and gas and hydrogen. Breaking both value chains down to production, processing, distribution, and end use (upstream, midstream, downstream) provided a clearer view of where the jobs are, and where there is a future for workers to transition in the hydrogen value chain.

Shadow Chancellor meets GMB members at hydrogen house

By staff - GMB Union, March 18, 2022

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves met GMB member as she visits the Northern Gas Network’s model hydrogen house in Gateshead to discuss energy security and the cost of living crisis.   

Rachel Reeves MP will travel by hydrogen bus to a Northern Gas Network model ‘hydrogen house’, where she will fry an egg on a hydrogen-powered stove. 

GMB has long called for more investment in hydrogen fuels, which could use the existing gas network, protecting well paid, unionised gas jobs and save the planet. 

The Ohio River Valley Hydrogen Hub: A Boondoggle in the Making

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, March 18, 2022

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) torpedoed the Build Back Better bill because, he said, it is too costly. But the fleet of hydrogen hub projects he is now promoting for locations around the nation, one of them in the Ohio River Valley, may cost nearly as much, they will drive up utility bills and create few new jobs, and they will miss a large share of the emissions they’re supposed to eliminate. They will also block less costly climate solutions that can create more jobs and actually eliminate climate-warming emissions the hydrogen hubs would only partially abate. 

According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the hydrogen hubs, which have as their centerpiece massive pipeline networks that would funnel carbon captured from power plants and factories to injection points for underground sequestration, would cost between $170 billion and $230 billion just to construct. That figure is dwarfed by the additional investment in carbon capture technology that would have to be made by plant owners whose costs to operate and maintain their retrofitted plants would also rise significantly.

A recent Ohio River Valley Institute brief pointed out that retrofitting just the nation’s coal and gas-fired power plants for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would add approximately $100 billion per year to Americans’ electric bills, an increase of 25%. The cost of adding CCS to steel mills, cement plants, factories, and other carbon producing facilities could be that much or more.

Climate Ventures Conversations: Bruce Wilson from Iron & Earth

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

Britain’s oil and gas workers want a green transition – but the industry doesn’t

By Erik Dalhuijsen - The Guardian, October 23, 2021

I’ve worked in oil for decades, and seen what happens when jobs dry up with no plan B. Now industry leaders must face reality too.

Moving to a green energy system and a zero-emissions society without leaving people behind is an enormous challenge. Many oil and gas workers are actually ready for the change, but the oil and gas industry itself is slowing the process, holding back real progress.

Having worked in the oil industry in Aberdeen and abroad for decades, what I have seen feels like the industry applying all of its power to self-preservation, in the face of the immutable truths that fossil fuels will one day run out and that we must keep what of them remains in the ground.

Oil and gas workers need alternatives and fast. I have seen what happens in communities where oil and gas jobs dry up with no plan B in place. When the price of oil crashed in 2014, thousands of people in the region lost their job. I know former colleagues who used to work on multimillion-pound projects and are now unemployed or working in shops on the minimum wage.

I know that moving from oil and gas to renewables is possible. My skills helped me understand and troubleshoot the emissions models that underpin sustainable development plans. My skills allowed me to evaluate and optimise integrated renewable supply systems, and also decarbonise sewage treatment processes. Many people in the oil industry – including those who work offshore – have even more skills that can be transferred into the renewable energy sector, such as working on offshore wind farms.

But it still feels like the industry is refusing to adapt, all the while pretending to be leaders in “energy transition”. In the hope of selling more gas, the industry is pushing dirty (blue) hydrogen based on the yet-untested promise that carbon capture and storage will be able to remove any emissions at scale.

Do trade unions have energy for change?

By Bert Schouwenburg - MorningStar, October 2021

AGAINST a backdrop of floods and heatwaves of unprecedented magnitude and frequency all over the world, the latest report from the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning that immediate action must be taken on emissions to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, if a global catastrophe is to be averted.

Its sobering assessment will set the scene at the forthcoming Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, scheduled to commence at the end of October after being postponed from last year because of the Covid pandemic, where representatives of the international trade union movement will be in attendance.

Many of those unions are affiliated to Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), established in 2012 and based in New York City.

TUED describes itself as a global multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of land and people and responds to attacks on workers’ rights and protections.

It promotes an equitable energy system that can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power towards workers, communities and the public.

In order to achieve that goal, TUED advocates resistance to the agenda of the fossil fuel corporations, reclaiming privatised energy for the public ownership and restructuring it to a renewable, sustainable model.

Six of the 88 organisations belonging to TUED are the British trade unions — Unite, GMB, Unison, PCS, NEU and UCU. While they have all participated in TUED’s activities at one time or another and there is a general consensus on the call for public ownership, there are differences between them on matters of future energy policy in Britain and elsewhere.

Broadly speaking, the political debate about how best to avoid climate disaster has centred on whether the dominant neoliberal order can be adapted to provide market-based solutions to the crisis or whether a system based on perpetual growth and capital accumulation is completely at odds with the need to curb emissions.

It goes without saying that political elites in the richer countries of the global north, including Britain, subscribe to the former in their belief that some kind of green capitalism is both possible and desirable.

In this they are supported by the energy companies, whose principal concern is their bottom line.

TUED, on the other hand, is promoting the concept of a Just Transition from an economy based on fossil fuel consumption to one that largely relies on renewable energy.

Technological advances make that transition a realistic proposition but in order for it to be “just” it must take into consideration the livelihoods of energy workers who would see their jobs disappear.

This presents an enormous challenge to the governments of the day but were there to be a strategically planned conversion to a publicly owned green economy, there would undoubtedly be a huge demand in everything from retrofitting home insulation to the manufacturing of wind turbines that could more than absorb work lost in the transition.

The theory of a Just Transition within the framework of an oft-quoted Green New Deal is certainly plausible, but for British trade unions there is, justifiably, little faith in a right-wing Conservative regime doing the right thing by their members, many of whom currently enjoy relatively stable and well-paid employment in parts of the energy sector that would disappear.

How Green is Blue Hydrogen?: Study Finds Hydrogen Produced with CCS Produces High Emissions

Reclaiming Hydrogen for a Renewable Future: Distinguishing Fossil Fuel Industry Spin from Zero-Emission Solutions

By Sasan Saadat and Sara Gersen - Earth Justice, August 2021

To chart a course toward a safer climate and more habitable planet, we must rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases across our society. The biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. Consequently, the clearest path to reducing emissions is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable, zero-emission energy in our transportation, buildings, and power generation (sectors that are collectively responsible for about 75% of United States’ greenhouse gas emissions). This transition would make significant strides in eliminating the devastating public health impacts of pollution throughout the life cycle of fossil fuels—pollution that is most severely concentrated in Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. A just transition will also require careful policy design and meaningful engagement from frontline communities. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification are zero-emission solutions that eliminate both greenhouse gases and health-harming air pollution. To meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis will require deployment of renewable resources on an unprecedented scale— ultimately achieving 100% clean power generation—and a complete transition to efficient, electric models for things like household appliances and cars.

As we electrify everything that can feasibly plug into a clean power grid, “green hydrogen” is a promising tool for transitioning to renewable energy in sectors that lack a viable route to direct electrification. Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced by using 100% renewable electricity to split water molecules.

To understand the potential role of green hydrogen, consider the challenges of cutting climate pollution from one hard-to-electrify sector: maritime shipping. Maritime travel is difficult to decarbonize because battery-powered ocean-going vessels will not be able to handle long-haul voyages across the ocean, at least for the foreseeable future. The hope for green hydrogen is that it may store energy from clean electric resources like wind and solar in a fuel that could be used to propel large, long-haul ships. This vision is at least a decade away from reality, if it overcomes the challenges to cost-effective production and efficient on-vessel storage. Still, it offers a path to displacing the highly polluting bunker fuel currently relied on to move much of the world’s goods across oceans.

Read the text (Link).

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, July 18, 2021

Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the “blueprint” for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2 — and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction. 

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”

The AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, which jointly produced the blueprint, did not respond to questions about concerns over their proposals.

Proponents of carbon capture, usage, and sequestration (CCUS) often highlight ways that it could be used for sectors like steel and cement whose carbon pollution is generally considered “hard to abate.” Yet, the pipeline network envisioned by Moniz would be capable of carrying over 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the steel and cement industries emit in total nationwide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from 2019. In fact, it could transport more CO2 than the entire industrial sector emits in the U.S., leaving the rest of the pipeline network’s capacity available for carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants or from “direct air capture” technologies that would remove ambient CO2 but don’t currently exist at a commercial level

“Even the advocates of direct air capture technology acknowledge that they don’t anticipate that it would be at a scale to make any meaningful reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels until 2060, 2070 and beyond,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the environmental law nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law. “When we’re dealing with a world where we need to cut emissions in the next decade, direct air capture just has no meaningful place in that conversation.”

Instead, the proposed CO2 pipeline network would be used to offer a lifeline to existing fossil fuel power plants. In Appalachia, for example, 90 percent of the carbon emissions the plan seeks to capture would come from existing coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley. Those plants, none of which are currently outfitted with the costly upgrades needed for capture carbon, are already facing difficult questions about their ability to compete economically with wind and solar energy.

Nonetheless, momentum behind the project appears to have been gathering behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., particularly inside the Department of Energy (DOE).

“It’s a great pleasure to have our first kind of public interaction with our good friend, Dave Turk,” Moniz said of Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Energy at the blueprint’s online launch on July 1.

“It’s incredible the volume and quality of the thought-leadership that you all are behind,” Turk, who is second in command to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told Moniz. “And I think the report that you all have put together is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress,” he added, describing the blueprint as “actionable.”

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