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Clean Air Task Force on the European Commission’s Methane Strategy – What We Know, What Needs To Be Done

This week the European Commission is expected to release an EU “methane strategy” which will serve as the starting point for a process to develop legislation to rein in methane pollution. Cutting methane from the oil and gas sector in Europe and from the gas Europe imports is one of the fastest and most effective ways to slow the rate of global climate change.

Europe is the world’s largest importer of both oil and gas, and even under the most aggressive decarbonization scenarios, gas will be part of the European energy system for some time.  Strong policies to address methane emissions from any fuels produced or consumed in Europe – including emissions from production outside of Europe – will help ensure that Europe can meet its goal of being truly climate neutral.

By 2030, strong EU methane standards for both domestic and imported gas could reduce more than five million tons of methane annually, reducing near-term warming as much as replacing about 120 coal-fired power plants with carbon-free generation.

A draft of the methane strategy was released to the media on 12 October, and if accurate, it reveals the European Commission’s direction on methane and raises a number of questions:

  • Legislative commitments for 2021. The Commission has already published its intention for legislation in the second quarter of 2021 for leak detection and repair (LDAR) and monitoring reporting and verification (MRV). This is a positive step forward, since strong LDAR and MRV policies are keystones of effective methane abatement policies.  However, the Commission needs to ensure that LDAR is mandatory and frequent (at least quarterly) and that MRV relies on a comprehensive equipment survey, granular, detailed reports, and application of the most up-to-date emission factors, with a directive to move to actual measurement data within two years.
  • Possible legislation on venting and flaring. The commission is expected to leave open the possibility for legislative action that would ban routine venting and flaring by 2025 and to set efficiency standards for emergency flaring. This shouldn’t be a possibility but rather a commitment to institute a ban on these highly polluting and wasteful practices within the next year.  It should also include a requirement to specifically replace equipment that is intentionally designed to vent gas.
  • How will the commission address the massive methane emissions from the EU’s imported gas? The leaked draft proposed only to create a methane supply index, with no ramifications for imported gas that is higher methane and no standard for methane leaks when the imported gas is being produced and transported.  The Commission should create a mandatory Methane Performance Standard that applies to the entire supply chain for both domestic and imported gas sold in the EU and develop policies to ensure that all used in Europe adheres to the performance standard.

“The EU is to be commended for putting the reduction of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry on the front burner of climate action, and we believe that EU leadership on methane can be a powerful incentive for other countries to step up,” said Jonathan Banks, Clean Air Task Force International Director, Methane Program. “However, the methane strategy to be unveiled this week may leave a lot of methane pollution on the table.  The Commission, Parliament and member countries can use the strategy as a starting point but much more must be done to cut methane emissions.  The real work on methane has only begun.”

Additional Background:

Methane packs more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of CO2, and levels have been rising faster than anticipated under the Paris Climate Agreement, pushing us closer to the precipice of uncontrolled climate feedbacks. If this trend continues, it might prove impossible to meet the agreement’s goals – even with aggressive, bold CO2 reductions.

Global methane emissions have increased by 50 million metric tons since 2000 – a deeply alarming trend, as this additional methane will have similar climate implications over the coming decades as the CO2 emissions from all US power plants, transportation, and residential and commercial heating combined. Emissions from fossil fuel production reportedly contributed more than 30 percent of the total. In other words, methane emissions from fossil fuels have increased by approximately 16 million metric tons in the past 20 years.