US and EU methane rules: many words, few deeds – a transatlantic perspective

A once ignored greenhouse gas (GHG), methane is now moving to the top of the international agenda. The EU and US have both announced decisions to adopt rules to cut methane emissions to bring them in line with international commitments they both have signed up, i.e. the EU-US driven Global Methane Pledge

Gastivists action at Vilvoorde gas power station

Only controlling methane emissions, however, does nothing to address the sources of methane emissions, fossil fuel extraction and industrial agriculture. The only real solution is to rapidly phase-out fossil fuels and factory farming, and this must be part of any plan to deal with methane! While many European countries have taken action to ban fracking, we are still supporting fracking by building gas import facilities, pipelines and petrochemical facilities that will create new markets for fracked gas originating in the United States, Russia and elsewhere.   

What are the EU and US initiatives focusing on? 

In short, the EU and US are focusing on hardening their existing methane infrastructure, poised to make significant investments in infrastructure that will support more fracking. The EU, as a major fossil fuels consumer, imports more than half the energy it consumes from third-party nations and it is directly responsible for the upstream methane emissions in exporting countries. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States is one of the top three oil and natural gas producers in the world, and is the second largest emitter of methane in the world, behind Russia. By building more methane infrastructure, we are not only making more leaky infrastructure, but also exacerbating the impacts fracking, transporting, refining and burning methane has on drinking water and air quality, while it continues to spew planet-warming GHGs into the atmosphere.

On December 15, the European Commission published a methane regulation aiming to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector. The proposal includes new rules for oil and gas companies on monitoring, reporting and verification, leak detection and repair and a ban on routine venting and flaring practices. 

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling operations. The new rules would apply to existing and new oil and gas infrastructure. They will focus on new emissions monitoring programs to detect and fix leaks and restrict venting practices.

Ramping Up the Transatlantic Fossil Fuel Pipeline

Both EU and US initiatives have a high degree of hypocrisy. Massive public subsidies on both sides of the Atlantic are propping up mega gas projects, while public land is being leased to support even more fossil fuel extraction. More specifically, the EU is planning to invest €13 billion of public funds in 20 fossil gas mega projects and President Biden just signed an infrastructure bill that provides over $25 billion in new subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, on top of $121 billion in existing US fossil fuel subsidies. The Biden’s Administration recently leased-out more than 800 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for fossil gas and oil extraction, the largest off-shore sale in US history.

The US is number one in LNG sales to the EU this year. Even though the supply chain on EU territory is only a small fraction of the fossil fuels consumed in Europe, the proposed methane measures does not consider halting exports overseas (in the US) or imports from overseas (in the EU). They do not impose any monitoring or fixing of leaks occurring outside the EU, but only mild requirements for importers to provide information. On the contrary, new unprofitable (without public subsidies) and unnecessary LNG terminals are under construction in the EU to import fracked gas. 

The construction of an LNG terminal in Cyprus (Cyprus2EU), which the EU could finance through its inclusion on the 5th PCI list, will lock the island into a fossil gas future for decades. This goes hand in hand with reckless plans within EU member states. Just a few days ago the Dutch government granted a subsidy of more than 4 million to the LNG-Zero project, which includes the adoption of the dangerous and unproven Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. The project suggests that methane emission measures and CCS can lead to “clean” LNG, a claim that has no basis in reality and outright ignores the impacts that fossil fuels have on public health and the environment. 

The situation is not rosy either in the US, where e.g., New Fortress Energy is planning to construct an LNG export terminal in the New Jersey community of Gibbstown, and there are additional plans for new LNG export infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. The LNG would be transported from fracking fields by pipeline, rail cars and trucks, with the risk of accidents and leaks that could directly affect local communities. Methane rules can only reduce the adverse impacts from fossil fuels in a limited way, and continue the greed driven desire to drill, transport and use fossil fuels altogether, and all the impacts that come with it. 

The support of EU leaders and the Biden Administration for propping up methane infrastructure does not end there. The promotion of hydrogen as a silver bullet for our climate crisis is little more than a fossil fuel industry plan to create even more markets for US fracked gas. The US Department of Energy is developing a plan to export massive amounts of methane based hydrogen and the EU presented a Hydrogen Strategy to build the infrastructure to accommodate this new trans Atlantic fossil fuel frenzy.  This risks big costs and fails to have any climate benefit, as so-called “blue” hydrogen from fossil gas is worse for the climate than just burning fossil gas straight away, or even coal for that matter. The end result is fossil-based hydrogen becomes a major driver of methane emissions, while the fossil fuel industry gets rich on public subsidies, communities are destroyed and our planet burns. 

O Fossil Fuels Phase-Out, Where Art Thou?

In the EU, despite demands from the European Parliament and civil society, there is no fossil fuel phase-out plan or even a ban on imported fracked gas. The US lacks any meaningful plans as well, and instead continues perpetuating a fossil fuel industry narrative that turns a blind eye to the true impacts of fossil fuel development, while pretending that fossil fuels and factory farms are in some way part of a sustainable world. Our government leaders are not taking the climate crisis seriously, and the methane plans in the US and EU are case in point.

We are never going to plug all the leaks, especially as we build out more fossil fuel infrastructure, encourage more drilling and fracking, and pretend like subsidies for fossil fuel industry scams like hydrogen and carbon capture are part of the climate solution. Only focussing on methane emissions also gravely lacks a larger vision of the devastating effects of oil and gas drilling and transport, such as the release of toxic substances, the problem with drilling waste and wastewater, the pollution of our air, water and the environment, severely harming local communities, the health of people and of our planet.

 

Picture: Gastivists Collective and Tegengas-Degaze action at Vilvoorde gas power station