Reducing Methane Emissions: A Requisite to ensure a Future for Gas

Francisco P de la Flor's picture
Francisco P de la Flor, Director for International Organisations, Enagás
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Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG) after carbon dioxide (CO2). Compared to CO2, the greenhouse gas effect of methane is significantly stronger in the short term. However, methane has a shorter atmospheric lifespan (8-12 years on average) while CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries.

While the efforts of the European Union to reduce the greenhouse gas impact of its energy system is focused on mitigating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, regulation (EU) 2018/1999 on the Governance of the EU requires the European Commission (EC) to propose an EU strategic plan for methane. This will become an integral part of an EU long-term climate strategy aiming to achieve a climate-neutral continent by 2050.

To this end, in 2018 the Directorate General for Energy of the European Commission invited GIE and MARCOGAZ to investigate the potential ways that the gas industry can contribute to the reduction of methane emissions and to report their findings at the 32nd Madrid Forum in June 2019.

Following this request, GIE and MARCOGAZ conducted an industry-wide study, with contributions from representatives of the entire gas value chain from exploration and production through to utilisation, including biomethane.

The report provides an overview of the current status of CH4 emissions in the EU gas sector and the actions undertaken by the gas industry until now. It also covers ongoing initiatives and proposed commitments for future actions for the industry. The main challenges identified by the report are related to further harmonisation on methane emissions quantification and reporting. Dissemination of existing information, sharing data and knowledge are essential to facilitate the process of improving the data and accuracy and to understand the scale of the issue.

The report was very much welcomed by the Commission and was successfully discussed at the Madrid Forum. Part of the next steps for GIE and MARCOGAZ are to share the report findings via a series of dissemination and training activities.

In parallel to the study prepared by GIE and MARCOGZ, the European Commission has engaged during 2019 a consortium of consultants, led by Wood Plc, to conduct a large study on how to limit methane emissions in the Energy sector. This study is expected to be finalised by mid-2020.

The Methane emissions associated to the gas sector are equivalent to 6% of the total EU methane emissions and represent 0,6% of the total EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Even if small in absolute figures, the European Commission is convinced that there will not be a future for gas unless the methane problem is properly addressed. The EU Commission has decided to publish, in 1 or 2 years’ time, an EU Methane Strategy and to introduce new rules for measurement, reporting and full transparency, among others.

Methane Emissions is not a new topic for the gas industry but commitment and further action is needed.

The gas industry has been working for many years to improve transparency and reduce methane emissions through mandatory and voluntary programs. Preventing gas leaks and methane emissions has always been a safety requirement since the start of the gas industry. However, there is still potential to further reductions of methane emissions, in many cases even with a positive business case, by improving reporting and implementing additional mitigation measures.

More than never, the gas industry should continue making good progress in quantifying and reducing methane emissions and to ensure that this is extended over all parts of the gas chain. It is also essential that the gas sector focuses on the implementation of best available techniques and the development of innovative technologies. The future of our industry in Europe is at stake.

Many gas companies have voluntarily set emission reduction targets for the coming years. These targets are an example of the commitment of the gas industry to achieve additional methane emission reductions. However, this commitment should be extended to other gas industry players in order to establish and communicate their emissions reduction targets soon.

In addition to individual company efforts, there are several collaborative industry initiatives to improve understanding of the scale of methane emissions, potential sources and opportunities for reductions. In some cases, these initiatives also involve governments/authorities, NGOs and academia. The most well-known of these include the Methane Guiding Principles (MGP), the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), Climate and Clean Air Coalition – Oil and Gas Methane Partnership. All players in the gas sector are invited to support and/or join these initiatives.

If we want gas to be part of the future EU energy mix, it is crucial that the whole gas value chain fully commits to work with the EU policymakers, regulators and other sector stakeholders to ensure the development of effective policies toward net-zero methane emissions in the EU.

Francisco de la Flor holds, amongst others, the following positions in international organisations:

  • GIE Board member, and GIE Sponsor in charge of System Operation Area, including Methane Emissions
  • Marcogaz Board member  (Enagas is also chair of the SC Sustainability, responsible for dealing with Methane Emissions)
  • United Nations ECE – President of Group of Expert on Gas