EU countries vote to weaken law on methane emissions

BRUSSELS, Dec 19 (Reuters) - European Union countries voted on Monday in favour of weakening the bloc's planned law to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, weeks after the EU pledged at the COP27 climate conference to do more to tackle the potent greenhouse gas.

Methane is the second biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide and in the short term has a far higher warming effect, meaning rapid cuts in methane emissions are crucial if the world is to avoid severe climate change.

The European Commission last year proposed legislation requiring oil and gas companies in Europe to find and fix methane leaks in their infrastructure. The law will be negotiated next year by EU countries, who approved their negotiating position on Monday, and the European Parliament.

Luxembourg energy minister Claude Turmes said he was stunned by the lack of ambition in the countries' position, which he voted against.

"Nobody understands how Europe, who is so committed to climate change, can come up with such a weak governmental position on methane," Turmes told the meeting.

EU countries said companies should check their infrastructure 12 months after the law takes effect, and then carry out checks on numerous timelines.

For example, compressor stations and liquefied natural gas terminals would be surveyed every six months, valve stations every 12 months and transmission pipelines every two years.

Those rules would be far laxer than the quarterly checks for all infrastructure the European Commission originally proposed.

Documents previously reported by Reuters showed Hungary and Romania had requested weaker rules.

"Our concerns were related to bottlenecks in the supply of components, skilled workforce and administrative capacity," Romania's state secretary for energy Dan-Dragos Dragan said on Monday.

Alongside the United States, the EU leads the Global Methane Pledge of 150 countries aiming to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. The EU and other major oil and gas market participants also pledged at last month's COP27 summit to do more to curb methane.

Canada, Nigeria have moved ahead in recent weeks with methane regulations that are, in some cases, more ambitious than the EU's.

The EU law would not apply to infrastructure abroad that transports gas into Europe. The EU imports more than 80% of its gas, and most methane emissions associated with that consumption occur abroad.

Countries agreed, however, to assess after the law takes effect if it should be extended to imports - a condition sought by Germany.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Barbara Lewis

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