Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE)

EU sets the stage to throw fossil energy imports into its methane emissions regulation

While the zest for a low-carbon energy future gains more ground, the European Parliament’s Environment and Industry Committees have voted to bolster the European Union’s efforts to slash the methane footprint from the energy sector by proposing to extend the scope of the methane emissions regulation with a new provision. This will put fossil energy imports – oil, gas, and coal – in the same boat from 2026, as importers will be required to comply with the regulation to curb the methane menace.

Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE)

The EU Parliament’s Environment and Industry Committees adopted with 114 votes in favour, 15 against, and 3 abstentions, their position on reducing methane emissions in the energy sector on Wednesday, 26 April 2023. This is being undertaken to reach the EU’s climate goals and improve air quality. The new legislation is seen as the first aimed at cutting methane emissions. It covers direct methane emissions not just from oil, gas and coal, but also from biomethane once it is injected into the gas network.

While the MEPs also want the new rules to include the petrochemicals sector, they urged the Commission to propose a binding 2030 reduction target for EU methane emissions for all relevant sectors by the end of 2025, as member states should set national reduction targets as part of their integrated national energy and climate plans.

Thanks to this legislation, operators would be obliged to submit a methane leak detection and repair programme to the relevant national authorities six months from the date of entry into force of the regulation. In addition, MEPs are demanding more frequent leak detection and repair surveys – compared to what the Commission is proposing – and want to strengthen the obligations to repair leaks, as operators should repair or replace all components found to be leaking methane immediately after detection or no later than five days.

Moreover, a ban on venting and flaring of methane from drainage stations by 2025 and from ventilation shafts by 2027 is envisaged within the text, ensuring safety for workers in coal mines while obliging the EU countries to establish mitigation plans for abandoned coal mines and inactive oil and gas wells.

As the EU is considered to be the world’s largest natural gas importer with energy imports making up over 80 per cent of the oil and gas consumed, MEPs propose that importers of coal, oil and gas will have to demonstrate that the imported fossil energy also lives up to the requirements in the regulation from 2026. On the other hand, imports from countries with similar requirements for methane emissions would be exempted from EU rules.

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Jutta Paulus, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, DE, commented: “Today’s vote is a commitment to more climate protection and energy sovereignty in Europe. Without ambitious measures to reduce methane emissions, Europe will miss its climate targets and valuable energy will continue to be wasted.

“We call for ambitious and stringent methane reduction measures. In the energy sector, three-quarters of methane emissions can be avoided by simple measures and without large investments. As Europe imports more than 80 per cent of the fossil fuels it burns, it is essential to expand the scope of these rules to energy imports.”

The EU Parliament is slated to adopt its mandate during the 8-11 May 2023 Plenary session, which will form the basis for trilogue negotiations with the Council of the EU on the final text of the legislation. Methane is believed to be a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant, which is responsible for approximately a third of current global warming.

The energy sector accounts for around a fifth of human-made methane emissions while reductions of 45 per cent in these emissions by 2030 could avoid 0.3°C of global warming by 2045, according to UNEP.

Extending regulation to imports perceived as ‘good’

In a separate statement, the Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) – a non-governmental organisation looking for ways to clean the air, decarbonise shipping and reduce methane pollution –  highlighted that the MEPs’ vote on the EU’s methane regulation was welcome. However, EDFE emphasises that there is no more time to waste to stop the leaks in a quest to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.  

Flavia Sollazzo, Senior Director, EU Energy Transition, Environmental Defense Fund Europe, remarked: “The outcome of today’s ENVI/ITRE committee vote on an EU-wide, first-of-its-kind regulation to reduce methane emissions from the energy sector is a step in the right direction. While it could have been more ambitious in addressing emissions related to coal mining and natural gas imports, it is good to see the request for a commitment to an EU-wide methane reduction target and to extend the regulation to imports.  

“When the regulation enters into force as agreed by the European Parliament, the oil and gas industry will have to comply with more efficient obligations for measuring, reporting and verifying methane waste, and detecting and repairing leaks. The new regulation will also ban the harmful practice of non-emergency venting and flaring. To help slow global warming, we urgently need to stop wasting fossil fuels, as we transition to a sustainable energy system.”

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According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global industry emits 82.5 million metric tons of methane yearly. With the EU being the world’s largest importer of natural gas, its methane footprint outside its borders is three to eight times higher than that of domestic gas.

“There is still a lot of work ahead to effectively reduce methane emissions. I look forward to the trilogues and urge negotiators to match our ambition and secure a robust regulation that tackles this urgent problem effectively. This climate action is long overdue,” added Sollazzo.

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Furthermore, an analysis by S&P Global, which was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, estimates that by cutting preventable losses in six key export regions, more than 80 billion cubic meters (bcm) of methane could be captured and profitably brought to market. This is almost 60 per cent of Europe’s pre-war annual imports from Russia. 

The analysis also lays out specific steps that could bring 40 bcm of new supply to market – more than the total annual gas demand of France – in just two to three years, using export capacity either in place or under construction. EDFE claims that capturing this gas would avert 760 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, an amount roughly the size of Germany’s total annual emissions. 

“The window of opportunity to prevent further climate devastation is rapidly closing. And the ongoing unpredictability of fuel prices makes it economically wise even for industries to invest in capturing and utilising wasted gas. We cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away,” concluded Sollazzo.