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Report Cites Methane Leaks LNG-Powered Ships as Europe’s ‘Dirty Secret’

“Europe has a dirty secret at sea,” say researchers whose investigation found that the liquified natural gas (LNG) ships touted as “green” by policy-makers are actually methane-leaking carbon bombs.

Using state-of-the-art infrared cameras to track fugitive methane release from two LNG-fuelled ships at the port of Rotterdam, Transport & Environment found “damning” evidence of intense unburned hydrocarbon emissions vented from one ship, and combusted and partially combusted emissions from the other, with methane being released from its front exhaust stacks.

While the complexity of the investigation meant the sample size was very small, the discoveries should alarm European policymakers, writes T&E.

“In promoting LNG ships, European policy-makers are locking us into a future of fossil gas,” said T&E shipping officer Delphine Gozillon. “The ships may be painted green, but beneath the surface, the truth is that most LNG ships on the market today are more damaging for the climate than the fossil ships they’re supposed to replace.”

That makes the ships Europe’s “dirty secret,” Gozillon added.

The research findings mean that “European politicians are playing with fire in their support for LNG,” writes T&E, noting that methane is 80 times more powerful a global warming agent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year-period.

Citing data from the International Marine Organization, T&E writes that anywhere from 0.2% to “over 3%” of the methane used to power LNG engines fails to combust and slips away into the atmosphere.

T&E’s findings come as the fossil industry “continues to lobby for LNG as a green shipping solution, pointing to low methane slippage based on their own data,” the report adds.

“Shipowners commissioned more gas-fuelled vessels in 2021 than the four previous years combined, with LNG ships promoted as a clean alternative to traditional fuels,” T&E writes. “Over two-thirds of new ships could be powered with LNG from 2025.” That shift would “raise the share of fossil LNG from an estimated 6% today to over one-fifth of all marine fuels in Europe by 2030, and lock in fossil fuel use into the 2040s.”