Big Oil Is Fueling The Hydrogen Rush

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Earlier this month, I shared the story of Irish EVs and how they pretty much busted local PR agencies for greenwashing the climate crisis through disinformation campaigns. A couple of days after that article was published, there was a discussion on Twitter — I was tagged, and Peter Miller shared screenshots of what he gets bombarded with every day:

The screenshots Peter shared were from numerous blog posts and news sources touting hydrogen in various ways. The fact that hydrogen is suddenly being pushed in our faces is not going unnoticed, and I’ve always said that before you act on the message being presented, ask why. What’s the real reason this message is being pushed out there?

Peter also shared an article by The Guardian that pointed out how a PR firm, Kingspan, hired lobbyists to try to persuade MPs that the insulation used by another company was just as dangerous as theirs. The PR firm went as far as rigging the actual tests. The reason was fear of a ban on combustible insulation. Although this particular article was unrelated to the fact that big oil is pushing this, it does show an example of just how far some PR firms will go.

How Big Oil Fits In This Picture

A new report, The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?, was released by a coalition of groups in Europe that include Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Food and Water Action Europe. The report shared a few quotes from executives such as Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, who said, “Hydrogen rocks, and I am committed to making it a success!” Another quote came from James Watson, Secretary General of Eurogas, who reacted to the EU Hydrogen Strategy in the following way: “A new dawn for gas in Europe. … This is going to be a step-change for the gas sector and one which we are embracing and leading.”

Michael Bloss, German Greens MEP, who also reacted to the EY Hydrogen Strategy, was a bit more direct in his response: “The gas lobby has massive influence on the EU hydrogen strategy. While the Commission makes it clear that clean hydrogen must come from renewable energies, it still wants to invest in fossil hydrogen.”

Some Key Findings From The Report

The key findings of the report show that the hydrogen lobby’s main players are fossil gas companies, which declared a combined annual expenditure of €58.6 million with the goal of influencing Brussels policy-making. It’s noted that the number could actually be a gross underestimate.

The hydrogen industry met with European Commissioners Timmermans, Simson, Breton, their cabinets and directors-general 163 times on energy topics between December 2019 and September 2020 — this is a stark difference from the 37 meetings on energy between high ranking Commission officials and NGOs.

Public relations firm FTI Consulting, which was exposed in the USA for creating fake pro–fossil fuel grassroots organizations on behalf of big oil and gas, has been a key player in creating the hydrogen lobby. The firm is behind Hydrogen Europe and the Hydrogen Council, which are the lobby groups most responsible for creating the hydrogen hype.

In July 2020, The Commission’s European Hydrogen Strategy was published and the report pointed out that this is very similar to the lobby group Hydrogen Europe’s demands, including goals and investments needed for hydrogen both in and outside of the EU — a cost of €430 billion by 2030.

The European Commission has also put the gas industry in the lead on many new hydrogen-focused bodies such as the “Clean Hydrogen Alliance.” These giant fossil fuel industries are responsible for creating a list of hydrogen projects that are eligible for public funds — a glaring conflict of interest.

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A public-private partnership between the European Commission and Hydrogen Europe, “Fuel Cells and Hydrogen — Joint Undertaking,” has been a key creator of the hydrogen hype and has ensured that more public funds will flow to Hydrogen Europe members in the next few years. This is in addition to the €1 billion in public funds for the industry’s past projects, between 2014–2020.

Failed carbon capture and storage/usage (CCS/U) technology is not only being brought back, but is receiving political, financial, and regulatory support. This is so that the EU can justify the inclusion of fossil-fuel-based hydrogen in its 2050 climate plans.

The EU also rebranded its fossil gas network as Europe’s future “Hydrogen Backbone,” even though it just adds small amounts of hydrogen into existing gas pipelines in the short term. For the longer term, it will supposedly repurpose them for hydrogen, but as we’ve shown recently, that’s not as easy as it sounds and probably isn’t logical. It appears that the European Commission is supporting industry plans nonetheless, and this would give a green light to companies building and operating fossil gas infrastructure to carry on as before.

The Hydrogen Backbone is also being used by both industry and member states to bring back controversial mega-projects such as the Franco-Spanish-Portuguese MidCat fossil gas pipeline, which was denied on climate grounds.

Additional Notes From The Report

The researchers who published the report noted that the hydrogen lobby spent almost €60 million to influence Brussels policymakers and have met with key hydrogen-related Commissioners and their cabinets several times. Since 2018, two deputy directors-general for energy have ended their 30-year careers to go into jobs with the law firm Baker Mackenzie, where they work on future gases like hydrogen.

PR firm FTI Consulting has also been key in creating and running hydrogen lobby groups to keep the hype alive. The report noted that creating this much hype both domestically and globally suits the interest of the fossil gas industry. “If the gas industry can get the whole economy demanding hydrogen, then it would be almost impossible to meet demand through green hydrogen alone (even if imported), meaning fossil fuel hydrogen would de facto keep flowing,” the report noted.

Almost all hydrogen today is generated with fossil fuels, and the gas lobby intends to use the hydrogen hype to keep its current model alive — a centralized, fossil fuel-based energy model, owned and controlled by just a small group of big energy corporations. The hydrogen hype has also successfully distracted the debate away from when and how we move away from fossil fuels toward a zero-carbon, fully-electrified economy. It has also shifted focus away from the questions of the kind of economy we want, away from the workers and communities who pay for it, and away from just who this system serves.

What Is FTI Consulting’s Role?

Public relations firms are often known for helping companies rebrand themselves, especially in the event of them messing up publicly. FTI Consulting is working on behalf of the oil industry, and below are some details of its involvement listed in the report.

FTI Consulting is well known for its involvement with the fossil fuel industry on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also behind the two most powerful hydrogen lobby groups: Hydrogen Europe and the Hydrogen Council. The report also pointed out that the contact address for the Hydrogen Council is FTI’s Brussels headquarters.

FTI was recently busted in the US for setting up front groups for energy companies that purport to show grassroots support for destructive fossil-fuels initiatives. Some of those groups were “Texans for Natural Gas,” which supports fracking, and the “Arctic Energy Center,” which advocates drilling in Alaskan waters and the Arctic wildlife refuge. Its clients in Europe include Gas Naturally, Eurogas, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, and ExxonMobil. In the case of Exxon, it paid up to €900,000 to the company in 2019.

The report also pointed out that Constantine Levoyannis, the Head of Policy at Hydrogen Europe since May of this year, was a Director at FTI Consulting who advised clients from the energy industry. He’d joined FTI a month after he quit working at the European Parliament, where he was a political advisor to Greek MEP Niki Tzavela. He is also head of the Brussels branch of the Greek Energy Forum and is well known for promoting the highly controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline. Although, he didn’t go straight into Hydrogen Europe from FTI — he also worked with the French gas infrastructure company GRTgaz.

The report also pointed out that although the Hydrogen Council declared less than €10,000 in lobbying the EU, in 2019 it paid FTI Consulting between €700,000 and €799,999.

Don’t Believe The Hydrogen Hype

The report is very detailed, and this article only scratches the surface of the deep dive it took into the creation of the hydrogen hype. The report, which you can read here, emphasized that the hydrogen hype has been created alongside the gas industry and is being used as a distraction from moving away from fossil fuels. Those who it wants to distract are pretty much everyone, but especially global policymakers and advocacy groups. So, if you see those catchy news articles about hydrogen with sweet headlines that make you feel good about it, don’t believe the hype.

Remember, to do your own research.

Featured image: cover of The Hydrogen Hype

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Johnna Crider

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

Johnna Crider has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Johnna Crider