A Bloc Québécois MP asked federal government officials Monday if they could cite any scientific papers backing Canada’s plan to rely on the oil and gas industry for help in growing a market for hydrogen fuel.
Bloc natural resources critic Mario Simard made the comments during a meeting of a House of Commons committee that is studying the low-carbon and renewable fuels industry in Canada.
“What scientific study are you using as your justification to say that hydrogen is a viable way to transition to a green economy?” Simard asked Mollie Johnson, Natural Resources Canada assistant deputy minister for the low-carbon energy sector.
Johnson responded that the government’s objective is to “move towards the lowest carbon intensity of hydrogen,” expecting that as technology evolves and the hydrogen market grows, prices will come down — ultimately allowing for cleaner hydrogen, made from the electrolysis of water, to become cost-competitive with hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.
“That’s what really gets us to it being a viable transition strategy,” said Johnson. “Our focus is on reducing carbon intensity, and when we talk about hydrogen that is being produced from oil and gas, it really is with carbon capture and storage, so it is to reduce that carbon intensity and build on the strength of our energy sector in that way.”
The government says hydrogen fuel can be a “transformative opportunity for Canada’s petroleum sector,” since one way to make it is by converting natural gas, a fossil fuel — but, unlike gas, it does not emit carbon pollution itself when used as an energy source, for example in fuel cell vehicles.
In this way, the government is hoping to repurpose the Canadian oil and gas sector’s expertise and 576,000-strong labour force, and the country’s network of natural gas pipelines and storage facilities, to kick-start a hydrogen economy.
As an initial step, the government expects the industry to ramp up production of hydrogen from natural gas while deploying carbon-capture technology during the conversion process to lessen its carbon footprint.
The 2021 budget’s tax incentives for carbon-capture and hydrogen production were designed to help drive down the cost of clean hydrogen, officials said.
Bloc natural resources critic Mario Simard asked government officials Monday if they could cite any scientific papers backing the plan to rely on oil and gas for help in growing a #hydrogen market. #cdnpoli
The federal hydrogen strategy, released in December 2020, says a hydrogen economy could lead to 45 million tonnes of carbon pollution reductions by 2030, and up to 190 million tonnes by 2050.
Scientific research, however, has highlighted the destructive effects of methane, the main component of natural gas, to the planet’s atmosphere, leading to questions from environmental groups about whether it is reasonable to rely on oil and gas in the low-carbon transition.
The oil and gas sector is one of the largest sources of methane, as the industry flares or vents it off in operations, and it leaks accidentally from equipment.
A major UN scientific report next month is expected to show that nations need to accelerate methane emissions cuts in order to avoid more extreme climate change effects, according to the New York Times.
Simard said he had spoken to engineers and other specialists about the interim plan to produce hydrogen from natural gas. “Many people think that it’s a good strategy to find opportunities for the oil and gas industry,” he said, but not so much for a green transition.
“Have any studies been done to prove that (natural gas-made) hydrogen can be used for the energy transition?” he asked again, later on.
“There have been lots of studies,” Johnson replied briefly, before passing the rest of her response time to Aaron Hoskin, a senior manager in the department’s Fuel Diversification Division.
Hoskin, who said he was the lead on the development of the government’s hydrogen strategy, said it relied on “more than 15 different studies that looked at production pathways across the country” as well as opportunities for hydrogen use and supply chain requirements.
“We had 14 targeted stakeholder sessions, where we spoke to more than 1,500 experts across the entire hydrogen value chain,” he said. “All of those studies were rolled into the development and finalization of the hydrogen strategy.”
Hoskin also said the government was working to develop an “international standard for carbon intensity” and an “international methodology to determine the carbon intensity” so that hydrogen produced in different ways can be mutually understood within the context of international commodities trading.
“Whether it’s going to be used domestically, as part of our path to net zero, or internationally, as part of more than 30 different countries’ path to net zero, that carbon intensity has to be driven down over time,” he said.
“Whether that’s through clean electricity or that’s through converting natural gas or petroleum, with carbon abatement ... all of these options are an opportunity.”