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EC consults on methane leaks in push to clean up EU gas imports

Highlights

Most methane leaks happen before gas reaches EU

Any EU policies would impact pipeline, LNG imports

EC plans methane strategy in third quarter 2020

Brussels — The European Commission is seeking views on how to reduce leaks of potent greenhouse gas methane from oil, gas and agricultural sectors as part of the EU's efforts to become climate-neutral by 2050.

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Most of the methane leaks from fossil gas production and transport happen before the natural gas or LNG reaches the EU, so a new EU policy on methane emissions could have far-reaching impacts on the global gas market.

The EU imports most of its gas, mainly by pipeline from Russia, Norway and North Africa, and as LNG from across the world, including Qatar and the US.

Net gas imports to the EU were 398 Bcm in 2019, up 10% on 2018, and accounted for more than 80% of EU gas consumption, according to EC analysis.

International action will be needed to tackle methane leaks, and this is best pursued at EU level, the EC said in a consultation roadmap available on its website July 13.

The consultation is open until August 5, and the responses will feed into an EU methane emissions strategy the EC plans to publish after the summer.

The EC said in the roadmap that at least half of global energy-related methane emissions could be cut at no net cost to industry.

The key challenge is how to improve measuring, reporting and verifying emissions at the level of private entities, it said.

On average, 5% of sources account for 50% of the leaks, known as "super-emitters".

Leak detection and repair programs, as well as finding and addressing these "super-emitters, can be a very effective action," the EC said.

Stricter policies

The EU has a binding 2030 target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and the EC plans to propose in September increasing the ambition of this target to a 50-55% cut.

Methane is the second most relevant greenhouse gas after CO2.

The EC wants the upcoming EU methane emissions strategy to enable cost-effective cuts in greenhouse gases across the EU, thus contributing to the EU's 2030 and 2050 climate targets.

The strategy is to look at how to cut methane emissions in energy, agriculture and waste, including by capturing the methane to use, for example as biogas or landfill gas.

This should reinforce the business case and provide predictability for investors, the EC said.

The EU and national governments "can clearly benefit from effective and efficient sector policies that reduce methane emissions in these sectors," the EC said.

"Such policies will focus on, but not be limited to, better measurement and report at private and sectoral entity level in the EU before stricter policy responses can be designed," it said.

IEA support

The International Energy Agency also recognizes methane emissions as a major issue for fossil gas, its senior energy analyst Christophe McGlade said in May.

It was already an "uphill battle" making an argument for using natural gas in a decarbonizing energy system, he said.

"If regulators and companies do not get on top of this issue, the door is going to shut on natural gas," McGlade said.

But there was also an opportunity for companies and producer countries who do successfully cut their methane leaks to sell the resulting lower emission natural gas at a premium.

"Consumers will value that," he said.

The IEA has set up a methane tracker to collect information on emission sources, abatement potentials and approaches to abatement.

It is also developing a road map -- a "How to" guide -- for policy-makers seeking to encourage companies to cut their methane emissions.