As the European Union rushes to wean itself off fossil fuels from Russia, it is exploring a “you collect/we buy” scheme to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Algeria, while simultaneously addressing massive methane leaks in the North African nation’s facilities.
“The EU will aim to ensure that additional gas supplies from existing and new gas suppliers are coupled with targeted actions to tackle methane leaks and to address venting and flaring, creating additional liquidity on global markets, while ensuring significant climate benefits,” says a communiqué from the European Commission.
“To that end, the EU will cooperate with its fossil fuel supply partners to reduce methane emissions,” the statement continues. “The EU stands ready to provide technical assistance to partners to set up such mutually beneficial ‘you collect/we buy’ schemes.”
Sanctions against Russia by the United States and the EU have been weakened by the continent’s dependence on Russian gas. So the EU is hoping to increase imports from Algeria, its second-largest alternative to Russia after Norway. But flaring and massive methane leaks from Algeria’s LNG infrastructure, or an increase in drilling for new sites, would act counter to the EU’s climate goals, reports Bloomberg Green.
According to the International Energy Agency, Algeria’s gas production has the third-highest methane intensity among selected global oil and gas suppliers. Data from satellites indicate that the most potent and persistent emissions are from one huge gas field in particular—Hassi R’Mel—which connects to suppliers in Europe and other areas. Researchers from Valencia Polytechnic University estimate methane leaks from the station at a rate of 4.5 tonnes an hour, roughly the same annual climate impact as about 17 million cars, Bloomberg writes.
Algerian state fossil Sonatrach, which operates at Hassi R’Mel, has disputed claims about the scale of methane leaks, saying its own estimates are “much lower than what is announced elsewhere.” But while the satellite data adds pressure on EU lawmakers to address the leaks, their urgent need to strike a deal for LNG means that “Algeria holds more of the cards” and is less likely to respond to pressure, explains Bloomberg.
The EU is now adapting its strategy to a “you collect/we buy” scheme in which it would purchase gas that would otherwise be released or burned off. In theory, that would create incentives to invest in upgrading technology to prevent methane leaking, says Bloomberg. Methane experts have praised the idea.
“It’s genuinely a world-leading proposal,” said Jonathan Banks, global director for super pollutants at the Clean Air Task Force. “It highlights the rapid climate wins possible at a time when most eyes are squarely on questions of energy security.”
However, some researchers have criticized the EU partnership with Algeria. A policy brief from Ghent University warns that the EU’s measures for gaining energy security from Russia “should not result in too-hasty friendships with alternative fossil fuel suppliers.”
In the brief, researchers Reinhilde Bouckaert and Claire Dupont contend that turning to Algeria for fuel is the wrong course of action, pointing to Algeria’s authoritarian government and loyalty to Russia as reasons against the move. The researchers also point out that perpetuating EU gas demand would delay the green transition in for both the buyer and the seller.
“The real answer to replacing fossil fuels from Russia must be to accelerate the energy transition away from fossil fuels altogether, and emphasizing the transition to a decarbonized energy sector as the heart of the EU’s response,” Bouckaert and Dupont write.