The European Union’s long-awaited plan to curb emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane will not impose binding standards on natural gas sold in the bloc, according to a draft seen by Reuters.
Methane is nearly 90 times more potent than CO2 in its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and is emitted from leaky pipelines and infrastructure, and is often burned off at oil and gas fields. It is also produced in farming.
As the world’s biggest importer of natural gas, the EU is facing pressure from investors, climate campaigners and some fossil fuel companies to set binding methane emissions limits on gas sold in Europe.
While the EU regulates methane emissions from gas burned in the bloc, it doesn’t do so for emissions during the production or transport of gas imports, so those emissions don’t show up in the tally of greenhouse gases linked to Europe’s gas-fuelled power plants, nor are they counted in the EU’s climate goals.
The EU’s methane strategy draft, due to be published by the European Commission next month, does not propose further methane emission standards but commits to “explore” them, without fixing a date.
Rather, it will propose legislation next year requiring oil and gas companies to better monitor and report methane emissions, and repair leaks.
The EU executive will then consider standards by 2025 to stop industry venting and flaring methane, practices that release the gas into the atmosphere or deliberately burn it.
Yet having the desired policy effect may prove difficult and there could be disagreements over any data used to analyse emissions. Much of the EU’s gas comes from Russia, Norway and Algeria.
The Commission does not comment on unpublished drafts, which are subject to change until adopted.
Some fuel companies, including Shell and BP, have already set voluntary targets to curb methane emissions.
However, campaigners say such efforts alone are insufficient, especially because recent satellite imagery and aerial surveillance have shown actual methane emissions significantly higher than levels reported by industry in some countries, including the United States.
“What we learnt from the US is that voluntary agreements, data and transparency in and of themselves do not deliver reductions as needed,” said Poppy Kalesi, global energy policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas is one of the most immediate, cost-effective options to slow the rate of global warming.”