Prove your humanity

This story has been updated.

A coalition of community and environmental groups is calling on the Department of Energy to suspend talks with a hydrogen hub in Appalachia and disclose more information about the project.

The Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, or ARCH2, was one of seven “clean hydrogen hubs” awarded by the Department of Energy last year. 

“Very little information has been shared, and the concerns have only continued to be raised by the public,” says Tom Torres, hydrogen campaign coordinator for the Ohio River Valley Institute, which wrote a letter to the agency outlining its complaints.

The hub is a consortium of companies, governments and nonprofits that will produce hydrogen from natural gas. The DOE awarded the hub up to $925 million to produce “low-carbon” hydrogen. 

But how it will do this, and where companies will build these projects, remains unclear, Torres said. 

The groups are asking the hub to disclose information like site locations for the hydrogen projects involved in ARCH 2, as well as track records of developers associated with them. They also want community groups to be involved in negotiations, planning, construction and operation of the hub. 

“[T]he Department has done little to establish the necessary conditions for ‘deep, deep partnership,’” according to the letter, which was signed by the Ohio River Valley Institute and 54 other groups. (Ohio River Valley Institute is supported by The Heinz Endowments, which also funds The Allegheny Front.)

The letter adds that the agency has offered “scant” public information about the project: “[L]ittle more than four approximate, selectively designed, preliminary maps…and project descriptions as short as three words — and no substantive opportunity to shape this proposal while negotiations continue behind closed doors,”

Jill Hunkler, executive director of Ohio Valley Allies, a community group, said in a statement that “even the most basic details” of the project are lacking. 

“Impacted communities deserve to be informed and have their voices included in the negotiation phase,” Hunkler said. “How can we take this process seriously when the DOE has yet to answer the questions presented to them by concerned citizens in our region?”

Announced last year, the hydrogen hubs were meant to kick start a low-carbon hydrogen network around the country. When used for energy, hydrogen emits no carbon dioxide. But making hydrogen from natural gas – the most common way it is manufactured – produces carbon dioxide emissions. ARCH2 developers have said they may use carbon capture technology to store those emissions and, in the process, create 21,000 jobs. 

However, some environmental and community groups have worried that hydrogen made from natural gas could lead to a whole host of headaches and health concerns for residents who already live in a region with intense fossil fuel development. 

“These projects will be sited in communities that are already experiencing significant pollution burdens,” Torres said. 

In response to the letter, an ARCH2 spokesman released a statement saying the consortium was “dedicated to addressing” the concerns raised by the letter from the community groups, but said that much of the information requested by the groups was “part of preliminary planning and analysis for ARCH2’s projects.” 

The statement said that ARCH2 was “developing an extensive strategy” for community outreach.

“Our engagement will do more than just check boxes,” the statement said. “It is designed to be thorough and meaningful and will provide ample opportunity to shape our projects in ways that benefit all stakeholders while creating opportunity for the region.”

On its website, ARCH2 says it’s currently evaluating potential sites and will conduct “extensive analysis of many factors” including community input.

The DOE did not respond to requests for comment on the letter. The agency recently held two listening sessions about the hub, during which community members voiced concerns about the projects without testimony from the agency or the hub itself. 

Torres called this process ‘inadequate’.

“People were being called to comment on a project that they know nothing about,” Torres said. “How are people supposed to raise concerns, ask questions, determine how they feel about this project at all if the agencies involved and the companies that are advancing these projects haven’t provided that information?”