'Dangerous experiment' | California gas company scales back plan to blend hydrogen into university pipelines




But SoCalGas now intends to include impoverished neighbourhood in H2 blending trial


Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) has scaled back plans to blend up to 20% hydrogen into the University of California Irvine’s fossil gas supply after facing accusations that it was using students as “guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment”.


However, the gas company has now applied to pump H2 into 10,000 households in an impoverished neighbourhood some 400km away.


SoCalGas had originally filed an application with the state’s Public Utilities Commission in 2022 to inject a 5% blend of H2 into the UC Irvine campus’ pipelines, incrementally increasing the proportion to 20%, with the nearly $13m trial scheduled to last 18 months.


In its application, the gas company noted that the project would “collect data on pipeline integrity and compatibility with blend concentrations, fluctuations in gas composition and concentrations, leakage (if any), effects on metering, safety, and end-user appliances to ensure appliances functioned correctly and without modifications”.


This wording suggested that it was not guaranteed that there would be no leaks of H2 into the dorms of the more than 14,000 students living on campus.


This led to strong condemnation from UC Irvine students and local environmental organisations, with the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign accusing the company and UC Irvine staff of “using college students as guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment”.


As such, in an amended application filed on 1 March, SoCalGas has now scaled back its plans to blend up to 20% hydrogen to a closed system at the campus gym, the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC).


“Portions of the campus’s distribution system will be isolated so that only the ARC will receive the hydrogen blend to serve light commercial equipment in the ARC, such as boilers and pool heaters,” the gas company wrote in its application.


However, SoCalGas has not given up on trialling a blend of H2 in residential gas supply. In its new application, the gas company now includes a second “open system” test at the small city of Orange Cove in Fresno County — a location almost entirely populated by Latino farmworkers, with 46.5% of its inhabitants living below the poverty line according to US census data.


This trial will see an initial 0.1% of hydrogen blended into distribution pipelines serving approximately 2,000 gas meters and 10,000 residents as well as commercial customers. Eventually, the H2 blend will be increased to 5%.


This is expected to last three years, after which SoCalGas plans to analyse the results and “decommission the project equipment only if required to do so”. The gas company adds that it “intends to donate certain portions of the equipment to the City of Orange Cove for local community use”.



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