Colombia Mandates Methane Emissions Reductions in the Fossil Fuel Sector, A First for the Region

by CCAC secretariat - 1 June, 2022
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition and its partners helped spur a multi-year effort to build Colombia’s capacity to rein in methane emissions, culminating in groundbreaking policy

In February, Colombia became the first South American country to regulate methane emissions in the oil and gas sector when it completed its flaring and fugitive methane emissions regulations. This unique policy was a product of collaboration between the Colombian Ministry’s climate change group, the ANH (National Hydrocarbons Agency), the private sector, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Reducing methane leaks into the atmosphere is the single most important and cost-effective way for the industry to minimise overall emissions from core oil and gas operations,” said Lina María Castaño Luján, leader of the mitigation component of the Comprehensive Climate Change Management Plan at the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “Combining climate and clean air action, such as the collection and use of methane, provides a valuable source of clean-burning energy that improves the quality of life in local communities and can generate economic benefits.”

Reducing methane leaks into the atmosphere is the single most important and cost-effective way for the industry to minimise overall emissions from core oil and gas operations."
Lina María Castaño Luján

The policy adopts the highest international standards by mandating that Colombia establish a Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programme to better monitor and respond to leaks up and down the supply chain. It includes commitments such as installing vapour units to capture and utilise fugitive emissions and annual, third-party verification to ensure efficient operations. It is also notable in that it tackles two issues at the same time — flaring and fugitive methane emissions — which are typically addressed in a siloed and inefficient manner.

“The Colombian government is setting a great example in this field,” said Marco Cota, the CEO of Talanza Energy in Mexico City and a consultant the CCAC funded. “All investments made to control and reduce methane emissions have profound benefits, as they positively affect health indicators and financial indicators at the industry, national, and global levels.”

“This new legislation is the result of incredible teamwork and the magnificent leadership of the world-class public servants in the Colombian Ministry of Mines and Energy (Minergia), headed by Diego Grajales,” added Cota. “I also want to stress the way we combined knowledge and experience with cultural dimension. We made the effort to understand the Colombian context, its wants and needs. This was key in developing a long-term and trusting relationship with the Colombian government, and of course for the successful completion of the project for this regulation.”

Methane mitigation has a remarkable number of co-benefits in addition to combating climate change. According to the CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment (GMA), humane made methane emissions can be reduced by 45 percent by 2030, which can not only avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming but also prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775, 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.

“In countries where there is a lot of oil and gas development, invariably there are considerable air quality concerns and problems driven by oil and gas development,” said Jonathan Banks of the Clean Air Task Force. “When you’re producing oil and gas, you’re emitting methane which is a contributor to ground-level ozone, and you’re also almost always emitting other air toxins like volatile organic compounds and things which are horrifically unhealthy to the local population. When you capture the methane, you’re also capturing all those air toxins as well.”

When you’re producing oil and gas, you’re emitting methane which is a contributor to ground-level ozone, and you’re also almost always emitting other air toxins ... which are horrifically unhealthy to the local population. When you capture the methane, you’re also capturing all those air toxins as well.”
Jonathan Banks

In 2016, Colombia signed the CCAC’s Marrakech Communique, committing along with many other countries to take decisive action on methane emissions, but specifically to reduce emissions from oil and natural gas extraction, transportation, and processing. Countries committed to doing this by developing and implementing national methane reduction strategies, regulations, policies, and enhanced actions— including those that regulate efficiency and fuel shifts.

“The CCAC Marrakech Communique in 2016 and all the commitments that Colombia has adopted in terms of climate action, have allowed the energy mining sector today to have a serious and strengthened commitment to energy transition,” said Luján.

“Colombia has a history of real interest and engagement on short-lived climate pollutants. They’ve done pilot projects, feasibility studies, and all sorts of work looking at how to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry,” said Banks. “There was a real desire to engage in Colombia which already existed that was super helpful.”

In 2018, building from the achievements of the communique, the CCAC funded the CCAP and the CATF to carry out capacity building to country regulators in Colombia through targeted peer-to-peer regulatory support to advance oil and gas regulations. This support focused on a range of topics, including increased knowledge of different types of emissions, (such as venting, flaring, and fugitive) as well as the different sources of emissions (such as leaks and venting).

The project started by building a common understanding of the issue and the solutions: how much methane does the oil and gas sector emit? What are best practices for methane mitigation in the sector? What are the limits of inventory estimates and how do you improve them?

The partnership then worked to build up capacity in the Ministry of Energy through workshops and trainings so that government officials and key industry stakeholders had the tools and skills to mitigate methane in the sector.

Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) then requested support from the CCAC’s Expert Assistance service, which helped determine that to meet their national emissions reductions targets, the oil and gas industry needed to reduce at least 5 million tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

In recognition of this fact, Colombia announced that it would regulate domestic oil and gas production by establishing a regulation that met the highest international standards. To accomplish this goal, the Ministry requested CCAC support for a consultant who was a policy and regulatory expert who could help them develop a regulation proposal.

The CCAC funded Cota to work directly with the government of Colombia to support the drafting of a methane regulation for Colombia’s oil and gas sector, which included reviewing successful international regulatory frameworks, best practices, and lessons learned from regulating methane in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This also included reviewing the implementation difficulties these countries face and identifying potential obstacles, as well as hosting workshops, field trips, and industry focus groups. This work strategically incorporated the CCAC’s OGMP 2.0 framework, including its levels of reporting and quantification.

The draft was “essential” in preparing the final version of the regulation, says Luján, and part of the reason the final regulation was so strong.

A unique and important aspect of Colombia’s final regulation was that the Ministry of Mines and Energy were working on two related issues at the same time, burning and venting by the Hydrocarbons Directorate and fugitive emissions by the Office of Environmental and Social Affairs. Spurred by the collaborative work that the CCAC helped kickstart, the government decided to unify the two efforts, compiling everything related to the detection and repair of leaks and the burning and venting of natural gas during hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities into one regulation. Combining efforts ensured that they wouldn’t be duplicated and that resources and impact could be maximized.

Cota says that successful implementation will require technology transfer and supervision, which requires the state to bring together the technologies Colombia needs, foreign companies who can help provide and transfer these technologies, and local companies who are ready and willing to adopt them.

“While the Colombian regulation is very ambitious, they have the knowledge to execute the implementation and to overcome the hurdles as they come, as happens with all regulations everywhere,” said Cota, the consultant funded by the CCAC. “This is a story of responsible actors sharing knowledge and using cutting-edge technology not only to create a regulation but, in a much broader sense, to walk in the right direction towards what is best for everyone.”

Colombia is also among 111 countries participating in the Global Methane Pledge, a voluntary commitment to cut global methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030, which could eliminate over 0.2˚C warming by 2050. The CCAC and its partners plan to continue to work together to provide technical assistance on methane mitigation to Colombia and other countries working to slash emissions over the upcoming decade.

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