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Get ready to start hearing about "certified natural gas"

Illustration of the letters "A+" made from blue flame.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The nonprofit MiQ wants to create the standard for certifying so-called low-emissions natural gas.

Why it matters: In theory, the effort could create a shared playbook — and new market incentives — for natural gas suppliers and consumers to reduce the sector's emissions.

Yes, but: It might also create a natural gas version of the "organic" sticker on produce, a label that doesn't mean nearly as much as consumers might think.

Driving the news: Last month, Alan reported that fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy planned to use only "certified natural gas," sourced from the country's largest natural gas supplier, EQT.

  • They're far from the only ones adopting the label: ExxonMobil in September, for example, declared that it would certify natural gas produced in New Mexico.

The details: The group doing all this certifying is MiQ — as in "Methane IQ."

  • The organization was founded by the environmental advocacy and research group RMI (née the Rocky Mountain Institute), and the sustainability consulting firm SystemIQ.

The big picture: The approach is based on the growing recognition that fossil fuels, and natural gas in particular, are going to remain integral parts of the global economy, even as companies and countries push to address the climate crisis.

  • "We have the issue of methane emissions in oil and gas, and it’s a very large problem — about 7 billion tons of CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] per year," MiQ CEO Georges Tijbosch tells Axios.
  • "That needs to be addressed now, today. One of the ways this can be addressed is by creating that transparency around methane emissions, because what you measure is what you manage."

How it works: A natural gas company seeking MiQ certification will pay for an MiQ-accredited auditor to examine the company's current emissions, its monitoring technologies and its operations.

  • Based on the findings and how they compare to MiQ's set of standards, the company will be issued a grade, from A to F.
  • The company will pay a fee to MiQ to be included on its online registry of certified natural gas.

The intrigue: A company can declare that its gas is "certified" no matter what grade it receives.

  • Additionally, once listed on the MiQ registry, the company can sell its certificates in addition to the natural gas — and the two products can be bundled or unbundled.
  • In short, the company can sell the certificate itself with the natural gas, and perhaps charge a premium for the "certified" imprimatur. Or it can sell the two separately.

What they're saying: MiQ intends to create a free-flowing market for the certificates — and, it hopes, ultimately a shared regulatory framework for reducing emissions from the natural gas sector.

  • "We want the trading to start, but quite soon we will be disclosing the grades," Tijbosch tells Axios. "We're starting a market from zero — this is like oil trading in the 1970s."

The other side: Environmental advocates remain critical of the idea.

  • "The truth is that [responsibly sourced gas] on a large scale is just another false solution that the fossil fuel industry is pushing to try to stay relevant and extend the lifespan of its product at a time when the science is clear that we need to be winding down production of all fossil fuels, including gas, if we want to avert the worst of the worst of the climate crisis," Patrick Grenter, associate director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, tells Axios.
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