Friday

27th May 2022

Dozens of unreported methane leaks discovered at EU gas sites

  • Methane is the second-most contributor to global warming, after carbon dioxide (Photo: Jeremy Buckingham)

The dangerous and invisible greenhouse-gas methane is leaking from oil and natural gas facilities all across Europe, according to new evidence released by the NGO Clean Air Task Force.

Using an infrared camera, the organisation found 123 methane leakages in oil and gas infrastructure in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Romania this year. But, at this point, it is impossible to know exactly how much methane is leaking.

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Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming, following carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas is about 80 times more potent than CO2 in its first 20 years in the air.

Moreover, it is also considered a dangerous air pollutant which can cause serious health problems.

Man-made methane emissions are increasing faster than scientists anticipated. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the amount of methane in the atmosphere reached record levels.

Until now, emissions from methane have not been regulated in the EU.

But the European Commission is currently developing a legislative proposal as part of the EU methane strategy - including binding rules on monitoring, reporting, leak detection and repair in the energy sector. The proposal is expected later this year.

A recent UN report said that current technology could help cut methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030, shaving 0.3 degrees Celsius off rising temperatures.

"Establishing strong methane regulation for the oil and gas sector is the lowest-hanging fruit in EU climate policy," said Jonathan Banks from Clean Air Task Force.

"We are essentially talking about proper maintenance and plumbing. Oil and gas companies do not do the basics because, frankly, they do not have to," he added.

Given that gas will be part of the European energy system for years to come, environmental groups said that strong policies to cut methane emissions will be needed to ensure the EU can meet its climate targets.

However, the new rules are unlikely to enter into force before 2023.

"Methane is carbon dioxide's evil little brother, but while we put the CO2 in the kindergarten, methane is running freely outside of the playground," said MEP Martin Hojsík, leading lawmaker on the methane strategy for the European Parliament's committee on environment.

Hojsík warned that voluntary commitments would not lead to the necessary methane-emission cuts, calling for concrete reduction targets.

In the EU, more than half of man-made methane emissions comes from agriculture (53 percent), followed by waste (26 percent) and energy (19 percent).

Infrared images from Panigaglia liquid natural gas terminal in Italy

74 more gas projects

Meanwhile, the EU is assessing the approval of 74 possible natural-gas projects under the so-called Projects of Common Interest (PCI) - a list of cross-border energy projects in the EU eligible for public funds and fast-tracked permits.

The commission has strengthened the rules for the assessment of future PCI lists.

But the evaluation of the existing list is based on old rules - meaning sustainability criterion are not mandatory.

The commission said that it has improved the PCI assessment methodology for gas projects included in the current list. But it falls short of measuring the potential impact of methane leakages.

"The sustainability indicator focuses on CO2 impact, but it also includes an assessment of a project's impact on air quality. However, methane emissions were not included due to the lack of reliable data," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

The current PCI list needs to be adopted by the end of 2021, but green groups said as it stands it undermines the Green Deal.

"If this fossil fuel infrastructure build-out continues, billions will be wasted on more fossil gas that is breaking our climate. The laws of physics are not fooled by this greenwashing," said Frida Kieninger from Food & Water Action Europe.

EU Commission methane plan lacks binding agriculture targets

The new European Commission strategy on slashing methane emissions focuses first on obtaining better data. Critics say it is a missed opportunity to impose targets and other binding measures on agriculture, the largest single emitter.

Opinion

Methane emissions will be test of EU's Green Deal

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is one area where the EU has a major opportunity to apply its market power to drive down global emissions, both through methane legislation and diplomacy.

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Two dozen countries have joined the US-and EU-led initiative to reduce global methane emissions, as momentum builds ahead of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow. Delivering on this pledge could reduce global warming by 0.2 degrees by 2050.

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