As Europe faces an energy crisis, it’s time to plug the leaks

Flavia Sollazzo

Europe is in an urgent energy crisis, with an immediate need for reliable, affordable sources.

At a time when countries are worried about keeping homes warm and lights on, one first quick and cheap option for filling some energy gaps created by the loss of Russian gas is to plug leaks and stop wasting gas.

Capturing the mind-boggling amount of natural gas — aka methane — wasted each year across the oil and gas industry would mean progress for both the climate crisis and the energy crisis.

We know that solutions exist and what these are, and we know that a lot can be done without building expensive infrastructure that would incentivize continued oil and gas dependence.

Worldwide, oil and gas companies squander at least 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year through leaks, flaring and other emissions that dump methane, a potent climate pollutant, into the atmosphere.

The amount of gas that’s wasted annually is nearly 25% more than Europe was importing from Russia before the war in Ukraine.

New EU methane rules must address 4 key areas

Europe is gearing up to enact new legislation for reducing the energy sector’s methane footprint. The Council of the European Union has agreed on its position on the legislation, and the European Parliament will take its position before the summer. The final round of negotiations will take place in the second half of 2023.

The EU Methane Regulation that’s under consideration has the power to put Europe at the forefront of global methane action, boosting energy security while slowing climate change.

But to deliver on that promise, the legislation must address 4 key challenges:

1. There’s a lack of quality data about where methane emissions are happening. We need to step up monitoring and data collection so we know where to target solutions.

2. Leaks in oil and gas infrastructure are widespread and have many causes, including poor maintenance and operating practices. We need to enforce leak detection and repair on a more frequent basis.

3. Venting and flaring is a harmful practice that involves burning or releasing methane into the atmosphere. We need to prioritize capturing this wasted gas instead.

4. Imports. As the world’s largest fossil fuels importer, Europe can leverage its market power to drive down global emissions by setting high standards for its internal market first, so that these could in the future be extended to imported gas as well.

Environmental Defense Fund Europe has leveraged its expertise in methane science and policy to develop a fact sheet and detailed policy recommendations that aim to strengthen and bring clarity to some of the technical aspects of the new regulation.

Building on global momentum for methane action

Countries around the world have awoken to the fact that methane, the pollutant driving nearly a third of current warming, represents the fastest opportunity to put the brakes on climate change.

In November, with the U.S., Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore and the UK, the EU announced a joint declaration from energy importers and exporters, designed to make it easier for buyers and sellers of internationally-traded natural gas to collaborate on minimizing methane across supply chains.

New regulatory announcements from the U.S., Canada, Nigeria and Mexico — all large oil and gas producing states — promise serious methane momentum going into 2023.

Even China, which did not sign up to the Global Methane Pledge to cut emissions by 30% this decade, affirmed that it has drafted a national methane emissions reduction plan.

And technology is ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability when it comes to methane leaks, venting and flaring. MethaneSAT, an advanced methane-tracking satellite developed by an Environmental Defense Fund subsidiary, will be launch-ready by the end of 2023.

Once online, MethaneSAT will contribute data to the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), a global platform unveiled by the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Methane Emissions Observatory to detect emissions and encourage governments and businesses to respond.

With the Methane Regulation, the EU — which led more than 100 countries in signing the Global Methane Pledge — has the opportunity to lead the way in translating commitments into concrete climate action.

Policymakers are waking up to the idea that climate security and energy security are two sides of the same coin. It’s time to plug the leaks and stop the waste.

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