Lawmakers call for tough EU measures to tackle methane leaks from gas imports

The European Commission’s proposed regulation to slash methane emissions should be stricter on imported fossil fuels and tackle greenhouse gas emissions beyond Europe, according to the lawmakers who are drafting the Parliament’s stance on the proposal.

“Much more could be done, especially on the side of imported oil and gas,” said Martin Hojsík, a Slovak lawmaker from the centrist Renew Europe group in the European Parliament who helped draft the Assembly’s stance on the methane regulation.

“I think this is where we need to be stronger and we need to be bolder,” Hojsík told participants at a EURACTIV event on Thursday (3 February).

Methane is the second-most important greenhouse gas after CO2 and is responsible for a quarter of current global warming. While most methane emissions come from agriculture and waste, the EU focused on the energy sector in its proposed law because this is where emissions are the easiest and cheapest to tackle.

Tabled in December 2021, the EU executive’s proposal includes reporting obligations for importers into the EU. But it has much more stringent rules for the European fossil fuel industry, including a ban on routine venting and flaring and leak detection and repairs.

EU paves way for renewable and low-carbon gases to replace fossil fuel

The European Commission on Wednesday (15 December) unveiled a package of gas legislation that aims to steer Europe away from fossil gas towards more sustainable energy sources, like renewable and low-carbon hydrogen.

However, “emissions which we are responsible for mainly occur outside the European Union and 90% of our oil and gas is imported,” remarked Jutta Paulus, a German lawmaker from the Greens who spoke alongside Hojsík at the event.

“I think the monitoring, reporting and verification issue is something which could be extended to imports fairly quickly,” Paulus said. “We already have a common framework, so to speak, on how to monitor, report and verify those emissions.”

It is “absolutely essential” to extend monitoring, reporting and verification to imports, according to Dagmar Droogsma, from the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, which supported the event.

“Most of the methane from these imports is released before the gas enters the EU. The draft legislation leaves those upstream methane emissions completely off the hook,” she warned.

The European gas industry agrees that something should be done to tackle methane emissions outside of Europe.

“The real issue today is how do we push the good practices that we have developed in the European gas industry upstream to the supplying countries,” said Didier Holleaux, the President of industry association Eurogas.

However, he warned against imposing new rules on importers at a time when Europe is facing a gas crisis, with storage levels hitting record lows amid tightening supplies coming from Russia.

“It’s not a habit of Europe to impose internationally its own regulation on other countries. We need to find a way to push them without jeopardising our gas supply because it’s still necessary for the years to come,” he said.

Risk of backfiring

In its December proposal, the European Commission adopted a two-step approach to regulating methane from gas imports: first transparency measures, including satellite monitoring, followed by an evaluation by 2025 to consider tougher measures if necessary.

Malcolm McDowell, an official who leads a methane reduction team at the European Commission, defended the proposal, saying it is a “world-first” and “no less than groundbreaking”.

Forcing more ambition into the law could ultimately backfire, he warned. “Don’t take for granted any aspects of that proposal in terms of the level of ambition that we struck,” he said, suggesting the proposal risked being watered down by the European Parliament and EU member states.

McDowell also pointed out that now is not the time to be challenging Europe’s energy suppliers. The EU is currently facing an energy crisis, which alongside growing tensions in Ukraine, has laid bare Europe’s dependency on foreign gas imports.

Imports make up 70% of Europe’s fossil fuel consumption, said McDowell, so making these conditional on compliance with all the regulations Europe intends to impose on its internal market would not be realistic.

“Can you imagine that in this particular current context? How crazy that sounds,” said McDowell. “Are we really in a position to be extremely prescriptive in terms of how exactly methane emissions should be monitored?”

In any case, Europe would not shut down its gas supplies in the middle of winter even in the case of non-compliance, which renders such action unenforceable, Holleaux added.

“We need to find a way to push them without jeopardising our gas supply because it’s still necessary for the years to come,” Holleaux said.

But Hojsík disagreed: “For me, it’s the perfect time because the windfall profits that the companies have are clearly not just enabling them to do things, but also are ultimately showcasing that is way more money leaking out of the pipes.”

By 2025, the European Commission will need to review the legislation and could look at stricter conditions for imports.

EU, US pledge cooperation on energy security amid Russia threat

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden pledged on Friday (28 January) to cooperate on guaranteeing Europe’s and Ukraine’s energy security amid a standoff triggered by Russia amassing troops at Ukraine’s border.

CBAM for methane

Another concern raised by Hojsík is that methane rules imposed in Europe risk putting the EU fossil fuel industry at a disadvantage compared to foreign competitors.

A solution for this, he suggested, is to introduce a border levy on oil and gas imports, similar to the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) that the EU is looking to introduce for CO2-intensive products.

“At the end of the day, I think the motivation should be that the oil and gas…imported into Europe is on the same standard and that means also with the least possible methane emissions,” Hojsík explained.

According to McDowell, methane emissions could be added to the carbon border levy in the future, once more data is gathered under the proposed methane regulation.

“The scope is there for including methane emissions at a later date, but we think that CBAM was very much developed specifically for dealing with CO2 emissions…on which we have extremely good data, point source data, which isn’t the situation for methane right now,” he said.

> Watch the full EURACTIV event below on YouTube:

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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