BP and Shell have been lobbying the Scottish government under the guise of renewables

A Shell hydrogen station and Scottish government minister Michael Matheson
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Campaign group Friends of the Earth Scotland has exposed how fossil fuel giants like BP and Shell have been lobbying the Scottish government to use “inefficient” hydrogen technology under the guise of renewable energy. While it brings into question Scottish politicians’ agendas, it also shows how toxic Big Oil is.

Moreover, hydrogen is hardly a climate panacea – and it’s also perpetuating colonialism in the Global South.

Hydrogen: not as renewable as it seems

Many people have touted hydrogen as part of the future of renewable energy. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) wrote that:

clean hydrogen is currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world expanding rapidly… now is the time to scale up technologies and bring down costs to allow hydrogen to become widely used…

Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges. It offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help improve air quality and strengthen energy security.

However, this is not the whole story. As Hiroko Tabuchi wrote for the New York Times, a study from 2021 found, for example, that:

Most hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas in a process that requires a lot of energy and emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Producing natural gas also releases methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

Read on...

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And while the natural gas industry has proposed capturing that carbon dioxide – creating what it promotes as emissions-free, “blue” hydrogen – even that fuel still emits more across its entire supply chain than simply burning natural gas

So, when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, hydrogen isn’t the ideal solution it seems to be. Yet as Friends of the Earth Scotland has exposed, governments like the Scottish one have been allowing Big Oil to cozy up to them over hydrogen, anyway – and at an alarming rate.

Big Oil: lobbying the Scottish government

The group said in a press release that:

Campaigners unearthed over 30 meetings with oil and gas companies where hydrogen was discussed, along with an additional 70 meetings with companies who stood to benefit from the roll out of hydrogen technology in Scotland…

On the same day (10/11/21) during COP26 as the Scottish Government published their draft Hydrogen Action Plan it organised a lavish dinner for the Hydrogen industry with 52 company lobbyists at Edinburgh Castle that FOIs reveal cost the public purse £11,000. It was attended by BP, INEOS, Shell, Wood Group and Offshore Energies UK. It was hosted by Business Minister Ivan McKee and attended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Then Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Michael Matheson travelled to Rotterdam in May 2022 to speak at the World Hydrogen Summit which marketed itself as “the global platform where hydrogen deals get done.” The two day conference had host partners BP and Shell and “diamond sponsorship” from Saudi oil company Aramco and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Shell met with then Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse in January 2021, where the official record states Shell specifically “emphasized the importance of both blue and green hydrogen.”

In recent years, Friends of the Earth Scotland found that fossil fuel giants BP and Shell met with MSPs 17 and nine times respectively. At the same time, the Scottish Government has pledged over £100m to the hydrogen industry. It has refused to rule out using hydrogen from fossil fuels. The government even refers to fossil fuel derived hydrogen as “low carbon“. This is despite methane leaking during gas production, as well as the extra energy required for the carbon capture process.

Overall, Friends of the Earth Scotland says its evidences shows:

how hard the industry is pressing politicians to claim hydrogen as a climate solution despite mounting evidence that the technology is too expensive and inefficient.

Evidence shows that using hydrogen for heating our homes is more expensive and less efficient than direct electrification through technologies like heat pumps. Hydrogen is not suitable for most transport needs due to cost and how far the technology is behind electrification.

However, the use of hydrogen isn’t just a Scottish issue.

Furthering colonialism

Away from Scotland, and the West’s push for hydrogen also has the usual colonialist agendas at the heart of it. As Al Jazeera reported, the EU is involved in extracting hydrogen from the Middle East and North Africa. However, as is always the case, Indigenous Peoples are being abused in the process.

Al Jazeera reported on a study from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) into hydrogen and the effects on the Global South. It wrote:

its production can fuel “green grabbing”, or the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends.

“A big chunk of the green hydrogen that the EU plans to use will be imported from North Africa and the Middle East,” Belen Balanya, researcher at CEO, told Al Jazeera.

It noted a horrific instance of the forced displacement of an Indigenous community:

One example of human rights violations connected with green hydrogen projects was Saudi Arabia’s planned megacity Neom, CEO found, where German multinational Thyssenkrupp was installing a huge electrolyser to produce hydrogen for export.

“Ancient tribes have been forcibly evicted from their land to make way for Neom,” according to the report, while several residents who resisted evictions were sentenced to death.

So, not only is hydrogen not green, but the West’s extraction of it in the Global South is perpetuating colonialism.

‘Depressing but unsurprising’

Friends of the Earth Scotland climate campaigner Alex Lee said:

Hydrogen lobbyists have made a targeted push trying to persuade the Scottish Government to ignore the mounting evidence about the technology’s inefficiency and huge costs.

By incorrectly classifying hydrogen from fossil fuels as ‘low carbon’, Scottish Ministers are doing the greenwashing job for fossil fuel companies. Big polluters like Shell and BP are selling hydrogen hard because it allows them to keep on drilling for fossil fuels and keep the public locked into an energy system using oil and gas for decades to come…

If the Scottish Government want to tackle the climate crisis and deliver a just transition away from oil and gas, it must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and ban them from lobbying.

Fossil fuel campaigner at Global Witness Sarah Bierman Becker told the Ferret that it’s:

depressing but sadly not surprising to learn of the toxic financial interests behind some of the UK’s biggest hydrogen proponents..

The global drive for hydrogen, which the UK seems to be at the forefront of, is coming squarely from a fossil fuel industry overwhelmingly responsible for the climate crisis.

Hydrogen is a way for those companies to do the same toxic practices that have brought the world to the brink of disaster, hidden behind a phoney green PR spin.

It is exactly this PR spin we’re seeing from the fossil fuel industry – and the Scottish government has been lapping it up. Meanwhile, hydrogen itself is no solution to the climate crisis – and globally, is often little more than a continuation of Western colonialism.

Feature image via Shell – YouTube and the Scottish Parliament – YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Although you do use the “blue Hydrogen” terminology, your article doesn’t make it clear that Green Hydrogen produced using excess renewable energy at times of lhigh output and low demand, is absolutely vital to decarbonising the steel and chemical industries, and is the only way we will genuinely get rid of fossil fuels.
      The fossil industries are using this fact as a leverage to produce their “blue” hydrogen which as you point out is actually more polluting than natural gas, and as with other fossil based proposals is promoted using the suggestion that carbon capture will be possible at some point in the future; well nuclear fusion will be available at some point in the future but we need to decarbonise now, or rather should have done decades ago.
      Green Hydrogen should not be being imported from Saudi Arabia as, even if produced without human suffering (which the Saudis seem entirely unable to do) transporting it is wasteful of energy, and I’m pretty certain at the moment is done using tankers running on the most polluting types of thick oil used in any transport so is not even carbon neutral.
      Locally produced green Hydrogen is vital and requires the lifting of the onshore wind generator ban so industries that need hydrogen can boost power for the grid at peak demand while using it to generate genuinely clean hydrogen off-peak: this will not only decarbonise some of the biggest CO2 producers and finally get us off Coal (removing any justification for new mining) but will help balance the grid and thus drop our need to use gas powered generators running on imported gas.

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