The European Union’s fuel supply options carry different implications for the climate, according to a life cycle assessment released while the continent is rethinking energy policy from between the rock of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the hard place of a looming energy supply crisis.
“A quarter of European Union (EU) energy comes from natural gas, of which nearly 45% is sourced from Russia,” the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) says. But “gas imports into Europe have very different climate intensities depending on where they come from and how they are transported, with emissions from gas production and transport varying by a factor of two to three.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that natural gas supplies are vulnerable to geopolitical tension. In response, EU member states are considering various alternatives. The options include large-scale rollouts of renewable energy, and a rapid expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals to accept shipments from countries like United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which already contribute 26% and 24%, respectively, of the EU’s LNG.
Member states are already taking steps to increase LNG imports—for instance, Germany recently agreed to “intensified energy cooperation” with the UAE, reports Clean Energy Wire.
While a transition to renewable energies is the most climate-friendly of the available options—and is viewed as the ultimate goal of the EU’s developing energy policy—the emissions intensities of the EU’s fossil fuel options can make a difference over the shorter term.
In its analysis, RMI used the Oil Climate Index plus Gas (OCI+) model to assess the life cycle emissions associated with LNG and Russian natural gas to consider the full range of upstream extraction and processing, midstream refining, downstream shipping, and end-use consumption emissions associated with the different fuel sources. The assessment showed that methane leaking from natural gas delivered via pipeline to Europe results in greater upstream and transport emissions than LNG shipped from U.S. or UAE partners.
That’s because Russia’s pipelines are leakier than those in the other countries, and the resulting emissions intensity is compounded by the length of Russian pipelines that outstretch their counterparts elsewhere—the 4,824 kilometres of Russian pipeline travelling from Russia to Düsseldorf are five times longer than the length of U.S. capacity, and 16 times longer than in the UAE. Even with the 20% to 30% of transport emissions from LNG shipping added to the equation, the total U.S. suppliers does no exceed Russia’s.
The results demonstrate that using life-cycle assessments to differentiate emissions intensities of fuel sources for energy policy can “empower the EU and other countries to reduce their climate footprints,” RMI says.
“Sourcing less emissions-intensive gas buys time in the short term as the world transforms the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all.”