Reducing the GHG footprint of the gas value chain: progress in methane emissions management and reduction

This opinion piece was firstly published on EURACTIV.

Reaching the ambitious EU 2050 climate neutrality goal means that steep reductions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are necessary, along with further minimisation of methane emissions. With the latter accounting for 10% of all greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in the EU in 2017, energy-related methane emissions have been identified as a priority under the European Green Deal.

GasNaturally Members are taking decisive steps to better assess, document and reduce methane emissions, and support the European Commission in developing a Methane Strategy. However, achieving these reductions, in the shortest possible time and in the most cost-efficient manner, will directly depend on getting certain technicalities right and using appropriate policy tools. The European Commission should incentivise early action on methane emissions reduction, boost innovation and ensure flexibility for new technologies and practices.

The EU gas industry is making significant progress in reducing methane emissions.

Based on available data, the gas industry accounts for around 5% of the overall EU methane emissions (approximately 0.6 % of the total EU GHG emissions). These originate from fugitive emissions (unintentional leaks from equipment or components – most challenging to quantify), venting (intentional releases due to safety considerations, equipment design or maintenance/operational procedures) and incomplete combustion.

The good news is that the EU gas industry can and is taking meaningful steps to reduce methane emissions. Between 1990 and 2017, industry initiatives have already led to a 56% reduction in fugitive methane emissions from natural gas activities. However, while methane emissions can be detected (e.g. using infra-red, laser cameras, spectrometer technology), they are more difficult to accurately measure. Therefore, improving the accuracy of the data is a key priority in order to continue reducing emissions.

A 2019 report on methane coordinated by GasNaturally Members GIE and MARCOGAZ highlights the challenges as well as the progress made by the industry on identifying, detecting, quantifying, reporting and verifying emissions along the value chain, while continuously improving the accuracy of data through progress in science and technology. At any given time, there are several projects around the world, at various stages of completion, that continue to contribute to our understanding of methane emissions sources and approaches to mitigation.

An example is the 2017 launch of the Methane Guiding Principles (MGPs), developed by a coalition of industry, international institutions, NGOs and academics, which is supported by a majority of GasNaturally Members. Focusing on five priority areas, one of the actions undertaken by the coalition is the development of a methane common reporting template. This initiative complements and reinforces others, such as the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – Oil and Gas Methane Partnership.

To continue the progress in reducing methane emissions, GIE and MARCOGAZ, in collaboration with representatives from the entire gas value chain, developed an Action Plan which was launched in January 2020. Consisting of over 50 concrete actions, the Action Plan aims at ensuring accuracy and harmonisation, developing cost-effective and flexible policies, continuously improving and stimulating innovation, taking a balanced and holistic approach and engaging all sectors and non-EU stakeholders.

The EU should incentivise early action on methane emissions reduction and stimulate innovation.

GasNaturally supports the European Commission in developing an ambitious methane strategy, that incentivises early action, drives performance improvements, facilitates proper enforcement, stimulates innovation and is flexible to accommodate new technologies and practices. Given the technical challenges related to methane emissions in the gas industry, we stand ready to contribute with evidence-based insights from ongoing research projects, which is particularly critical for the development of Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) standards that are currently under discussion.

On a more general note, the success of the European Green Deal in general and of progress on methane in particular will strongly depend on a robust innovation agenda. Gas will continue to play a key role in the EU’s energy landscape, which means that creating incentives to promote innovation in tackling emissions across the European gas supply chain should be among the priorities of the EU’s agenda on decarbonisation.