By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is considering binding standards for natural gas to limit emissions of methane, the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.
The 27-member bloc is the world's biggest importer of gas, and imposing such standards could affect its major suppliers, which include Russia and Norway..
Published on Wednesday, the EU methane strategy includes a clearer commitment than previous drafts, which shied away from methane limits on gas consumed in Europe. It said any legislation would follow an impact assessment involving international partners.
"The Commission will consider methane emission reduction targets, standards or other incentives for fossil energy consumed and imported in the EU in the absence of significant commitments from international partners," the policy said.
Curbing methane is key to plans to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. However, that target does not capture the emissions released to produce or transport gas to the EU, whereas methane standards for imported gas would.
Methane, which is emitted from leaky oil and gas pipelines and infrastructure, unused coal mines and farming, is 84 times more potent than CO2 in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
Some campaigners welcomed the push to tackle imported emissions, but Green EU lawmakers lamented the lack of legislation on agriculture, where most methane emissions come from livestock farming.
"Effective manure management should be made mandatory for farms with bigger livestock," German lawmaker Jutta Paulus said.
The Commission will propose legislation next year requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and report methane emissions and repair leaks.
It will consider banning venting and flaring, which release methane into the atmosphere or deliberately burn it.
Companies including Shell <RDSa.L> and BP <BP.L> have set voluntary targets to curb methane emissions, and the International Energy Agency says a third of such emissions could be saved at no net cost, as the captured gas could be sold.
Satellite data has shown methane emissions significantly higher than levels reported by industry. The Commission said it will help launch an independent international body to gather data, supported by EU satellites.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Alexander Smith and Louise Heavens)