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European co-legislators agree ‘provisional political agreement’ on new rules to cut methane emissions in energy sector

The European Council and the European Parliament on Wednesday (15 November) reached a “provisional political agreement” on tracking and reducing methane emissions in the energy sector.

“This agreement is a great achievement in the framework of the ‘Fit for 55′ package. The text represents a crucial contribution to climate action as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, second only to carbon dioxide in its overall contribution to climate change and responsible for a third of current climate warming. Reducing methane emissions will help us to achieve EU’s climate goals,” said Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, acting Spanish third Vice-President of the government and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

The provisional agreement has proposed new requirements for the oil, gas and coal sectors to measure, report and verify methane emissions, as well as put in place mitigation measures to avoid such emissions, including detecting and repairing methane leaks and limiting venting and flaring. It has also put forward global monitoring tools to ensure transparency on methane emissions from imports of oil, gas and coal into the EU.

Moreover, the Council and the Parliament have agreed on specific deadlines and frequencies for monitoring, reporting and inspections of potential sources of methane emissions.

Within specific time periods from the entry into force of this regulation, operators would be obligated to submit reports to the competent authorities containing the quantification of source-level methane emissions (within 18 months), direct measurements quantification of source-level methane emissions for operated assets (within 24 months), direct-measurements quantification of source-level methane emissions complemented by site-level measurements (within 36 months and by 31 May every following year) and direct measurements quantification of source-level methane emissions for non-operated assets (within 48 months, and by 31 May every following year).

Additionally, mine operators would have to submit reports to the competent authorities containing yearly source-level methane emissions data (within 12 months) for operating mines, as well as monitor the plugged and abandoned mines.

The competent authorities would carry out periodic inspections to check operators’ compliance with the requirements set out in the regulation.

The first inspection would be completed no later than 21 months after the date of entry into force of the regulation. The period between inspections is to be based on an appraisal of the environmental, human safety and public health risks and must not exceed three years. If a serious breach of the requirements of the regulation is detected, the subsequent inspection must take place within one year.

New framework for leak detection and repairs

The aim of leak detection and repair surveys is to identify sources of methane leaks, including other unintentional methane emissions, and to repair or replace the relevant components.

The provisional agreement provides for the adoption of a risk-based approach, drawing a distinction between type 1 leak detection and repair surveys (lower accuracy to find big leaks) and type 2 surveys (higher accuracy to find small leaks) based on minimum detection limits and minimum leak thresholds, and differentiating between aboveground components, underground components and components below sea level and below the seabed.

The two institutions agreed on allowing operators to use advanced technology systems under specific conditions. Additionally, by 12 months, the European Commission would be obligated, by means of an implementing act, to specify minimum detection limits at standard temperature and pressure.

“As far as possible,” repair or replacement of components would have to take place immediately after detection of a leak, or as soon as possible for a first attempt but no later than five days and 30 days for a complete repair. Leaks under a given threshold would be “closely monitored,” the European Council in a press release.

New monitoring tools

Separately, the co-legislators (Council and Parliament) agreed on three implementation phases.

The first phase would focus on data collection and the creation of a “methane emitters global monitoring tool” and a “super emitter rapid reaction mechanism.” In the second and third phases, equivalent monitoring, reporting and verification measures would be applied by exporters to the EU by 1 January 2027, and maximum methane intensity values by 2030. The competent authorities of each member state would have the power to impose administrative penalties if these provisions are not respected.

The provisional agreement will now need to be endorsed and formally adopted by both co-legislators.

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