The proponent of the Queensland-Hunter Gas Pipeline (HGP) will explore plans to upgrade the pipeline to enable it to carry large volumes of hydrogen.

Key points:

  • The Hunter Gas Pipeline was approved back in 2009, but is yet to move out of the planning stage
  • The project has faced landholder opposition
  • Hydrogen plans have drawn accusations of greenwashing from an energy expert

The proposed 833-kilometre underground gas pipeline would go from the Wallumbilla Gas Hub near Roma in Queensland, through north-west New South Wales and the Hunter Valley to Newcastle.

The project is yet to move out of the planning phase after being approved in 2009, before a five-year extension for construction to start was granted in October 2019.

HGP Managing Director Garbis Simonian told the ABC making the pipeline hydrogen compliant was “common sense”.

“We are transitioning to a low carbon future or no carbon future, there is no doubt that we will be moving towards the use of hydrogen as a fuel,” he said.

Accusations of greenwashing

Bruce Robertson, an analyst with progressive think-tank the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the NSW hydrogen industry was in its infancy and Mr Simonian’s plans were premature.

 “It’s pure greenwash to garner more subsidies for an uneconomic pipeline,” he said.

A map with a line from Queensland down to Newcastle

Under the current approval, construction of the pipeline needs to begin by October 2024 within a 200-metre corridor.(Supplied)

Mr Robertson said the “primary purpose” of the HGP was to facilitate the Narrabri Gas Project, and Mr Simonian’s revised plans amounted to “greenwashing it with the idea that it’s going to be hydrogen compliant”.

Mr Simonian rejected that.

“If you’re going to invest $1.2 billion, you don’t want your investment to only be for 20 years or 30 years, you want it to be much longer,” he said.

Mr Simonian raised the prospect of the pipeline connecting to a mooted green hydrogen hub at Liddell, announced last week by billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries and AGL.

AGL declined to comment, while Fortescue CEO Julie Shuttleworth said “it is pleasing to see the business community responding” to the announcement. 

A large power station next to an inlet of water.

A 12-month feasibility study will be carried on a green hydrogen hub at Liddell.(ABC News: Four Corners)

Hydrogen plan ‘totally different’

Mr Simonian said his company was conducting engineering studies before settling on a final design for the pipeline in “about a year’s time”.

Gas pipelines can carry up to 15 per cent hydrogen, but Mr Simonian said he wanted to make the pipeline compliant.

“There will be extra costs, principally the type of steel used in pipelines that carry hydrogen because hydrogen is more permeable, probably more higher carbon steel pipeline,” he said.

Mr Simonian said HGP had received advice that the revised plan would not require fresh planning approval “because the approval is for a gas pipeline and hydrogen is a gas and methane is a gas”.

The ABC understands the NSW Department of Planning would likely require a modification request for the project at a minimum.

Mr Robertson said the revised plan would mean a “totally different” pipeline

“Hydrogen is a very different gas to methane, is far more explosive,” he said.

Interior of one of three pot lines at an aluminium plant

Some heavy industries around Tomago in the Hunter are hoping hydrogen can eventually replace gas.(ABC Newcastle: Anthony Scully)

Landholder not appeased

President of the Hunter Gas Landholder Rights Alliance Meg Bowman said the revised plans would “not be acceptable to landholders”.

“Hydrogen is extremely volatile and should not be carried across distances, it should be created where it is used,” she said.

Tomago steel fabrication business TW Woods Construction is hopeful about hydrogen’s potential.

Managing Director Tom Woods said the HGP carrying hydrogen could assist his business.

Operator of planned Queensland-NSW gas pipeline looks at hydrogen makeover
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