EU Methane Strategy: An unknown quantity

The upcoming Methane Strategy can make the EU a world leader in emissions reduction, writes Cristian-Silviu Busoi.
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By Cristian Silviu Busoi

Cristian-Silviu Busoi (RO, EPP) is ITRE Committee chair & opinion rapporteur on the EU strategy to reduce methane emissions

19 Mar 2021

Methane emissions are the second-largest cause of global warming, with the energy sector being among the greatest sources. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil production worldwide is responsible for around 40 percent of all methane emissions today, with leaks along the natural gas value chain accounting for the remaining 60 percent.

The intensity of methane emissions varies widely between oil and gas producing countries. In the EU, 53 percent of anthropogenic methane emissions come from agriculture, 26 percent from waste and 19 percent from the energy sector. The fact that methane emissions come from such a wide range of sectors, and that once in the atmosphere, methane blends well with other gases, makes it very difficult to measure and report.

Furthermore, uncertainty over greenhouse gas emissions is relatively high for methane emissions compared to CO2, due to a lack of accurate data, among other factors. Although the Effort Sharing Regulation sets reduction targets for all greenhouse gases, there is currently no EU policy dedicated to reducing anthropogenic methane emissions.

The need for EU action has already been underlined in the Governance of the Energy Union Regulation. The European Commission was asked to consider policy options for rapidly addressing methane emissions, and to put forward a strategic plan for methane as an integral part of the EU’s long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It presented its Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions in October last year.

“An accurate measurement of methane emissions across sectors will help us better understand the situation and determine appropriate actions”

During the coming months, Parliament will assess the available options for reducing emissions. A joint hearing will also be held soon between the three Committees involved to hear the views of experts and stakeholders. As Chair of the ITRE Committee, I welcome the EU Strategy and its holistic and inclusive approach to better exploit the synergies between different sectors.

Among the cross-sectoral actions put forward, I believe there is a broad consensus for the improvement of reporting methodologies as a priority objective, as the current level varies considerably between sectors and Member States. An accurate measurement of methane emissions across sectors will help us better understand the situation and determine appropriate actions.

I also believe there is strong support for all the initiatives aimed at improving the use of data from satellites. The EU is a leader in satellite imagery and methane emission leak detection, thanks to the Copernicus programme, and can lead international collaboration to improve the monitoring and mitigation of global methane emissions. The energy sector is the one sector for which new legislation derived directly from this strategy is envisaged; this is due to be published by the end of the year.

According to the Commission, the most cost-effective methane emission savings can be achieved in the energy sector, where 54 percent are emissions leaked from oil and gas, 34 percent are leaked from coal and 11 percent from residential and other final sectors. The IEA confirms this view and considers emissions from oil and gas operations to have the greatest and most cost-effective potential for reduction.

For many years, safety has been the primary motivation for routinely detecting and reducing methane emissions; these have been reduced but not by enough. It is important to underline the efforts undertaken by energy companies, such as dedicated abatement technologies, and these should be supported and strengthened. Representatives of the sector, as well as the IEA, point to the lack of reliable data as a main barrier to the actual reduction of emissions.

Therefore, a well-structured, fit-for-purpose monitoring, reporting and verification system will be fundamental for improved detecting and quantifying of methane emissions and will allow the results of mitigation measures to be better evaluated.

The IEA estimates that nearly 40 percent of total emissions in the oil and gas sector could be curbed using currently available technology, at no net cost. This is because methane is valuable, and can be captured and sold on the market. If all abatement options were deployed throughout supply chains, a reduction of up to 75 percent would be feasible according to the IEA.

Similarly, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Scientific Advisory Panel also estimates that almost 70 percent of emissions from the fossil fuel sector can be abated. Oil and gas will continue to be part of the energy mix for some years, even in rapid clean energy transitions like ours. Therefore, it is crucial for the oil and gas industry be proactive in limiting - in all ways possible - the environmental impact of their supply.

“The EU should play a role in reducing methane emissions at a global level, using its position as the largest global importer of fossil fuels to support similar actions from global partners”

The role of gas in decarbonising energy systems depends on reducing methane emissions. I am aware that methane emissions management and reduction is a top priority for the European gas industry. A wide distribution of best practices and best available techniques is already available, for example through the Methane Guiding Principles’ best practice toolkit.

The European Union should play a role in reducing methane emissions at a global level, using its position as the largest global importer of fossil fuels to support similar actions from global partners. The creation of an international methane emissions observatory is another important element of the Strategy proposed by the Commission.

I therefore welcome the European Commission’s announcement that it will table a legislative proposal by the end of this year. This will aim to improve the availability and accuracy of information on the specific sources of methane emissions associated with energy consumption in the EU.

It will also set EU-level obligations on companies to mitigate those emissions across different segments of the energy supply chain including methane leakage, venting and flaring mitigation, which together cover the main sources of methane emissions in the energy sector.

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