In this file photo dated Sept 25, 2020, ecologist Antoine Scherer (left) and junior specialist Noora Huusari measure the Methane gas emissions of the Linnunsuo reserve, a former peat farm taken over and regenerated with unexpected success, in Kontiolahti, Finland. (PHOTO / AFP)
BRUSSELS — The European Parliament voted on Tuesday in favour of rules that would force companies selling oil and gas in Europe to cut their methane emissions, setting itself up for tough negotiations with EU countries seeking weaker limits on the potent greenhouse gas.
Methane is the second-biggest cause of climate change, after carbon dioxide. In the short term, it is more potent than CO2, but methane emissions leave the atmosphere more quickly – so rapid methane cuts can accelerate efforts to slow climate change.
The Parliament said the rules should also cover imported fossil fuels from 2026, by requiring importers of oil, gas and coal into Europe to prove that their foreign suppliers comply
The European Union will this year negotiate a law to cut methane emissions. In a vote on Tuesday, the EU Parliament said it would back rules requiring oil and gas companies in Europe to check their above-ground infrastructure every two-to-four months, and fix methane leaks they discover.
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Lawmakers also backed rules, originally proposed by the European Commission, to largely ban companies from "venting and flaring" methane – intentionally releasing or burning it.
"Routine venting and flaring of methane is irresponsible and fuels the global climate crisis," Jutta Paulus, Parliament's lead lawmaker on the rules, said.
The Parliament said the rules should also cover imported fossil fuels from 2026, by requiring importers of oil, gas and coal into Europe to prove that their foreign suppliers comply.
That goes further than the Commission's original proposal, which did not target fuel imports.
The 27-country EU imports more than 80 percent of its gas. Most methane emissions associated with that consumption occur abroad.
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Satellite footage and infrared cameras have shown emissions of methane gushing out of fossil fuel companies' infrastructure, inside Europe and in countries from which it imports gas.
An attempt by some centre-right EU lawmakers to weaken the law, by making leak checks less frequent, failed to win majority support on Tuesday.
But the attempt reflected the view of some EU countries seeking weaker rules and concerns about the difficulty of implementing the rules are likely to resurface in upcoming negotiations between Parliament and EU countries on the final law.