In a hard-hitting exposé, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on November 18 released a report attacking the environmental claims made by the National Hockey League (NHL) and chemical producer Chemours about HFO blends used in ice rink refrigeration systems.

The report, called “On Thin Ice: How the NHL is Cheating the Climate,” examined the three-year-old partnership between the NHL and Chemours, through which the hockey league has promoted two of Chemours’ Opteon HFO blends, R513A and R449A, to the NHL’s 32 teams, as well as the North American ice rink community at large. The partnership, which was renewed last month, has netted the NHL about US$2 million, an amount that could grow depending on the partnership’s success in selling Opteon products to community rinks, according comments made by a Chemours representative obtained by the EIA; this figure has not been previously reported.

The EIA’s report garnered immediate mainstream media attention, with articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post

The NHL, through its 11-year-old-old NHL Green initiative, and Chemours have promoted the refrigerants R513A and R449A as “environmentally sustainable,” despite their high GWP (600 and 1,400 over 100 years, respectively; and 1,700 and 3,100 over 20 years, respectively), as well as their inclusion of HFO-1234yf, which converts to trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) in the atmosphere.

Prior to the partnership, the NHL promoted ammonia/NH3 (R717), now used by 19 of the 32 NHL rinks, or CO2 (R744), not yet used in the NHL but increasingly adopted by rinks in North America and worldwide. The NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken, installed an ammonia system at its environmentally advanced Climate Change Arena.

Two NHL hockey teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche, have installed R513A systems at their arenas. (The rest of the teams still use R22.)  And more than 200 rinks throughout North America have switched to Opteon refrigerants, according to the news release announcing the extension of the partnership.

In its report, EIA calculates that displacing ammonia with Opteon products “in ice rinks and beyond” could contribute to billions of metric tons of additional CO2e emissions over the next two decades, the equivalent to annual emissions of 1,500 coal fired power plants. 

“The NHL accepted money from Chemours to spread dangerous climate misinformation,” said Alexander von Bismarck, EIA’s Executive Director, in a statement. “It’s surprising to us that the NHL, which advertises its ‘green’ credentials, would want to use its brand to promote super greenhouse gases as environmentally sustainable during a climate emergency. NHL fans, and all of us, deserve better.”

In the report, the EIA calls upon the NHL and Chemours to “immediately stop all misinformation promoting HFC products as sustaInable” and to “stop using HFCs” in new ice rinks.  The EIA also invites interested parties to send emails to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL VP of Sustainability Omar Mitchell urging the league to stop promoting Opteon refrigerants.

Video recording of Chemours and the NHL

To obtain previously undisclosed information about the partnership, EIA investigators engaged in recorded video calls with representatives from the NHL and Chemours.

The Chemours representative, Derek Ramsay, Business Development Leader, noted in the video that as a result of the partnership, the NHL has modified its refrigeration specifications to include Opteon refrigerants as an option for any NHL team.

But the NHL representaive, Jason Jazayeri, Senior Director for Integrated Solutions, said in the video
that the point of the partnership is less to persuade NHL teams, who operate independently, to use Opteon refrigerants than it is to convince thousands of community rinks in North America to do so. To that end, having two NHL teams – the Avalanche and the Sharks – switching to R513 systems may be sufficient. “So when [Chemours] talks to community rinks they can say we’re supplying the Colorado Avalanche and here’s how it’s working,” Jazayeri said. “It has a lot of equity with community rinks.”

Chemours’ contract with the NHL contains Opteon sales “milestones” that would affect the NHL’s ultimate compensation, Ramsay said. If more community rinks buy the product as a result of the NHL’s influence, “we would pay a little more.” 

Jazayeri added that the NHL meets with rink owners to explain “why it’s good for their business” to change refrigerants, adding that the NHL has developed “financing solutions” to help rinks make the investment. But Jazayeri acknowledged that he doesn’t know why rinks would opt for ammonia over Opteon. “To be honest, I don’t know if one is cleaner than the other,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chemours, with the NHL, is “branching out to industrial refrigeration, which [are] even bigger applications and we sell more refrigerant,” said Ramsay.

The NHL and Chemours did not respond to a request for comment from this website.

According to the EIA, Chemours, and I.B. Storey Inc., a consultant cited in the report, did not respond, prior to publication, to EIA’s requests for comment about the evidence presented. The NHL responded that it “will not comment” on the report before its release.

In an article in Inside Climate News following the release of the EIA report, Thomas Sueta, a spokesperson for Chemours, is quoted as saying that Chemours “offers a robust portfolio of Opteon products to reliably meet a broad range of performance characteristics with favorable cost and safety profiles when compared with alternatives like the ammonia option advocated by EIA.”

“It’s surprising to us that the NHL, which advertises its ‘green’ credentials, would want to use its brand to promote super greenhouse gases as environmentally sustainable during a climate emergency.”

Alexander von Bismarck, Environmental Investigation Agency

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