Fortescue capitalises on Woodside and McGowan’s hydrogen greenwashing embarressment


The Western Australian government’s support for Woodside’s ‘vague’ hydrogen plans, which seem about as green as a red-faced Premier Mark McGowan, has thrown the McGowan government under scrutiny as more details come to light. Meanwhile, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest capitalised on the debacle by announcing a massive green hydrogen deal at COP26 in Glasgow. 

Last week, pv magazine Australia reported on oil and gas company Woodside Petroleum Limited’s surprise ‘H2Perth’ announcement, which will see the company construct a $1 billion hydrogen and ammonia plant in Kwinana on Western Australia’s south coast. Woodside, and the greenwashing McGowan government, claim the facility will produce both green and blue hydrogen, but the response to Woodside’s surprise announcement has been, unsurprisingly, a resounding “That’s suss!” 

WAtoday‘s Peter Milne said WA Premier Mark McGowan “should be red-faced after greenwashing Woodside’s hydrogen plan”, after a press conference in which McGowan and three of his ministers failed to use the word “gas”, for what is patently a two-thirds gas-fuelled project. 

Woodside said it won’t make a final decision on the makeup of the project until 2024, though McGowan seemed pretty eager to tell the Western Australian people that the facility will be producing hydrogen “using a range of measures but in particular, using electricity off the grid that is produced by people’s solar panels.” 

What McGowan means is that one-third of the project will utilise electrolysers feeding off the WA grid, which includes residential PV, but which also includes a lot of coal and gas, indeed, 78% of the grid’s power came from coal and gas over the last year. 

“So much for the Premier’s people’s power” continued Milne, “If the plant just used surplus solar power, it would only run a few hours a day…Either the Premier has been played by Woodside to support this project, or he is playing us at Woodside’s bidding. Neither is a good look. In fact, it is pretty weak.” 

Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), which plans to use green hydrogen and ammonia to make its iron ore business net-zero by 2040, and set itself the ambition to generate 15 million tonnes per year of green hydrogen by 2030, got in on the act with a bit of quick editing on a Woodside print advertisement for its H2Perth project.

Speaking from COP26 in Glasgow to the ABC, Forrest added: “I think solutions talk. Basically we need a solution to oil, gas and coal. We need a solution to a cooking planet. Anything which comes from fossil fuel, like blue or grey hydrogen, is still a fossil fuel, that is still a charade. I would say to every leader, including us, absolutely no new coal mines. To even think about a new coal mine or even a new oil and gas field is really not to take global warming seriously.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also got in on the act: 

In what looks to be, from a communications perspective, the equivalent of an intercept pass, Fortescue are capitalising on Woodside’s bundled announcement. Fortescue’s ‘hijacking’ of Woodside’s greenwashed hydrogen announcement come in tandem with its own announcement that it will become the biggest supplier of green hydrogen to the United Kingdom (UK) after signing a multi-billion pound memorandum of understanding (MoU) with JC Bamford Excavators Ltd (JCB), a construction equipment company, and distributor Ryze Hydrogen.

JCB agreed to buy 10% of FFI’s global green hydrogen production, a deal Forrest described as a “landmark, first of its kind partnership” that “will help the UK to achieve net zero, particularly in the hard to electrify sectors.”

“Our agreement signals the first major shift in the global commercial landscape from fossil fuels towards the real, practical, implementable solution that is green hydrogen,” continued Forrest. “We are delighted to announce this groundbreaking initiative at the critical climate forum of COP26.”

JCB Chairman Lord Bamford said the deal was a “major advance”, “a monumental deal, not just for us but for the UK as a whole. We have chosen to partner with the global leaders in green hydrogen and it is fabulous that two countries, the UK and Australia, can come together to create a brighter future.”

“This agreement demonstrates that green hydrogen does not need to be ‘transitioned’ via fossil fuel hydrogen” Bamford concluded, “production of it can commence at once, to meet the needs of all mobility. I have asked Andrew to deliver to me immediately that he has the capacity, and he has agreed.”

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