Today the European Commission released the EU’s “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.
“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. “As we move forward in the process it will be important that the Commission and Parliament use the strategy only as a starting point, and that they seek to implement ambitious policies to cut methane emissions from domestic and imported gas. The real work on methane has only begun.”
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.
Today’s methane strategy outlines some key actions:
- 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. As the Commission develops its legislative proposals, it needs to ensure that LDAR is mandatory and frequent (at least quarterly) and that MRV relies on a comprehensive equipment surveys, 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 announced it may propose 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.
- Imported methane. Europe’s importation of gas comes with a significant methane pollution problem. The Commission’s new strategy has created an opening for a methane performance standard that would apply to all gas sold or consumed in Europe. This could result in very significant emission reductions if properly implemented and could help spread methane mitigation to many other parts of the world further increasing the impact of the action the EU takes.
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.