The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Peter Hart,

Hydrogen Production Would Exacerbate Water Shortages

Federal government’s production goals would require massive quantities of freshwater

While it is touted as a crucial ‘clean energy’ source, a major expansion of hydrogen production would significantly exacerbate water shortages – a particular concern in states grappling with long-term droughts.

New research from Food & Water Watch projects that the Department of Energy’s vision for producing 50 million metric tons (MMT) of hydrogen annually by 2050 could require up to one trillion gallons of freshwater every year.

As of 2020, about 10 MMT of hydrogen was being produced – the vast majority of it using natural gas (‘gray’ hydrogen). The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that by 2050 more than two-thirds will come from renewable energy sources. Even with that improbable shift towards ‘green’ hydrogen, the stress on water supplies will be considerable – equivalent to the annual home water use of 34 million Americans. And those figures do not include the water necessary for upstream gas production.

These calculations are of particular concern in California and New Mexico, where political leaders and utilities are touting major new hydrogen projects – some of which are tied to federal funding available through the Inflation Reduction Act. In Los Angeles, one plan calls for retrofitting four gas plants in order to burn hydrogen for power generation. Food & Water Watch estimates that this would require 1.7 billion gallons of freshwater every year by 2045.

New Mexico is also vying for federal funding to build ‘hydrogen hubs.’ One plan to develop small hubs would use between 21 and 46 million gallons of freshwater every year – in a state facing extreme water stress, with irrigation canals running dry.

“The hype around hydrogen as a crucial source of clean energy overlooks the serious impacts it would have on clean air and on our water supply,” said Food & Water Watch researcher Ben Murray. “There are billions of dollars in federal funding being made available for hydrogen hubs, much of which could go to fossil fuel giants like Shell and Chevron. Hydrogen is attractive to corporate polluters because it will entrench fossil fuel infrastructure. These projects would put massive strains on water supplies in areas of the country like California and New Mexico that are suffering through severe drought. Policymakers and state political leaders boosting hydrogen must account for the serious water supply problems they are creating by pushing hydrogen as a clean energy solution.”

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