Hydrogen, promoted by many in both government and industry as a game-changing fuel source to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, is taking center stage in 2023. A once nascent hydrogen industry is beginning to emerge following a substantial amount of funding and recent tax incentives introduced by the federal government. Although many have signaled their support for a robust hydrogen industry, a crucial question must be answered; can we safely transport hydrogen in pipeline infrastructure?
To further investigate this topic, Pipeline Safety Trust commissioned independent pipeline expert Richard Kuprewicz from Accufacts Inc. to prepare a report on the safety of transporting hydrogen through gas pipelines. The report provides suggestions for DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), state pipeline regulators and the nation’s many gas utilities on how to address hydrogen pipeline regulations and rulemaking in a way that ensures public safety.
Hydrogen’s unique physical properties make its movement, whether via gas transmission or gas distribution pipeline or whether transported as pure hydrogen or blended with natural gas, substantially more dangerous than conventional methane (natural gas) pipelines.
Let’s look at Hydrogen’s unique properties which can lead to potentially-disastrous pipeline incidents.
- Hydrogen is much more prone to explode than methane and hydrogen explosions are larger and burn hotter than methane.
- Hydrogen’s energy density by volume is much lower than methane, which means that a larger volume of gas must be delivered to achieve the same energy output, if hydrogen is blended into natural gas. For instance, blending 20% green hydrogen into natural gas pipelines would only reduce GHG emissions by less than 7% (accounting for hydrogen and methane leaks would GHG further diminish climate benefits).
- Hydrogen can leak as fast or faster than methane leading to increased hydrogen emissions into the atmosphere, as well as migration and accumulation in confined places where the risk of explosion is increased. Hydrogen is also an indirect greenhouse gas with more than 30 times the warming potential of CO2 in its first 20 years. Therefore, leaking hydrogen is both a threat to public safety and climate objectives.
- Many pipeline materials, such as certain steel and polyethylene, are inappropriate for transporting hydrogen due to issues such as embrittlement and cracking. Introduction of hydrogen in existing natural gas pipelines would cause such systems to fail at higher rates unless operators conducted extensive system upgrades
Currently, there remain too many knowledge gaps when it comes to safely moving hydrogen through pipelines. We call for each knowledge gap identified in our report to be addressed before a hydrogen economy is actively pursued. We need to ensure that projects involving hydrogen pipelines don’t increase risk to our communities or the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
Policymakers need to be diligent and cautious when considering projects that involve moving hydrogen via pipelines. Our decisionmakers must ensure hydrogen pipelines will be a sufficient distance from people and communities, the integrity of the pipelines will not be compromised by the presence of hydrogen, and that the project will indeed reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Find our press release here.
Find our summary for policymakers here.
View the whole report here.