Shale gas companies operating in Europe will soon have to monitor, log and account for methane emissions at drill sites or else face regulation, the EU’s top climate officer has said.
The amount of methane released into the atmosphere during shale gas drills is disputed, with one new industry-funded report suggesting it could be less than previously thought.
But asked whether there should be mandatory testing for methane leaks at European shale drills, Jos Delbeke, the director of the European Commission’s climate department told EurActiv: “We must know what the methane emissions are going to be.”
“Either the companies are going to put it on the table or a regulation is going to come at the European level,” he added. “I leave that open.”
Delbeke was speaking on 3 October at a presentation for a new methane emissions report by Dr David Allen, organised by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) in Brussels.
Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a shorter 100-year period. Scientists believe that it could be a particularly dangerous trigger for global warming feedback loops.
The issue of how to regulate it will be crucial, as Brussels weighs the wisdom of a legislative package for shale gas, ahead of an announcement planned for this December.
The EU executive could decide on a standalone instrument such as a new directive, amendments to existing legislation, or ‘soft guidance’ to industry in the form of voluntary obligations.
As a taster of what lies ahead, the European parliament will next week vote on forcing shale gas firms to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before drills can begin.
Environmental Impact Assessment vote
Debate has split along unconventional lines, with Conservative and Liberal MEPs whose constituencies cover potential shale gas sites taking uncharacteristically environmentally-friendly positions. At this stage, it is unclear whether impact assessments would include testing for methane leaks.
But the issue is unlikely to be ignored in the long-term. “We are learning that there are severe problems with the development of methane,” Delbeke said.
Even so, amendments to the EIA bill could exempt shale gas drill zones that retrieve less than 500,000 cubic metres per day from assessments. That figure compares to existing laws for conventional fuels, but could open the door to unregulated hydraulic fracturing.