Big Oil could be the hydrogen car’s best friend or worst enemy. So far, it is both. Two of the companies that have invested the most money in hydrogen research and development for the transportation industry is Chevron and Shell Oil.
Both Chevron and Shell Oil have partnered up with other companies to produce hydrogen fueling stations, which they are demonstrating throughout the country and other nations. Chevron has rolled out several hydrogen fueling stations in California and Michigan. Shell has rolled out hydrogen fueling stations in Washington DC, Iceland and The Netherlands.
Big Oil could be the hydrogen car’s best friend because of the deep pockets needed to do the research and development and because they already have some of the necessary infrastructure in place (standard fueling stations), which would make a nationwide rollout of hydrogen fuel much easier, when the time comes.
Big Oil can also be the hydrogen car’s worst enemy, since these companies have a great deal of power and control when it comes to the distribution of fuel in this nation. The big oil companies are also well aware there is over a trillion barrels of oil across the world (21.4+ billion in the U. S. alone) for which they can still profit. By switching to hydrogen or any other alternative fuel source too early, billions of dollars of profits will be lost. The President of Shell Oil is on a 50-city tour right now promoting the need for additional drilling in the U. S.
It is in Big Oil’s best financial interest to try to control the market and to delay hydrogen or other alternative fuels from taking hold in the marketplace. It is in Big Oil best public relations interest to currently show that they are actively involved in research and development of alternative fuels. If Big Oil is to be viable in the long-run, however, it is in their best survival interest to think of themselves as Big Energy and (even grudgingly) do the necessary footwork to prepare for the inevitable transition to hydrogen as the fuel of the future.
If Big Oil does not do this, then this leaves an opening for other smaller energy companies to swoop into the hydrogen marketplace and start usurping power. At some point, an “oil mutiny” will occur as nationwide sentiment will turn in favor of smaller companies distributing hydrogen fuel. When this happens, it will be too late for Big Oil to get back into the game.
So, just as in a game of blackjack at a casino, it is imperative that Big Oil play a split hand. One hand is getting the most out of current oil reserves. The other hand is playing up hydrogen research and development. If played well, Big Oil can have it both ways for a while, collecting on two hot hands at once, before the oil hand gets cold and the hydrogen hand stays hot.