A decision on whether or not to allow drilling for shale gas in the Netherlands will not be taken for at least another 18 months, pending further research, economic affairs minister Henk Kamp has told parliament.
All three areas earmarked for test drilling will be thoroughly researched, and that will take 1.5 years, Kamp said in a briefing. Only then will the cabinet decide what action to take.
The extra time will also be used to involve locals and local councils in the plans. The cabinet together with the water boards and others will also look at techniques which are less likely to cause ground and surface water pollution.
Shale gas is ordinary natural gas that has been trapped in dense shale beds deep underground. It is extracted using a controversial process known as fracking, which involves drilling a hole deep into the shale and pumping in water mixed with sand and chemicals.
A number of local councils, water boards and even brewing groups like Heineken have come out against the production of shale gas in the Netherlands because of the risk of pollution.
Haaren and Boxtel in Brabant and the Noordoostpolder north east of Amsterdam had been earmarked as test drilling sites. All three areas are strongly opposed to the arrival of shale gas companies.
Haaren mayor Frans Ronnes said he hoped the cabinet would abandon the plans altogether. More should be done to find alternative sources of energy from the sun and wind, he said.
Andries Poppe from Noordoostpolder council said he will only sleep well when the shale gas plans have been abandoned. ‘Kamp is not someone who gives up easily,’ he said. ‘He will now look carefully to see if he can opt for test drilling with better preparation.’
British firm Cuadrilla, which owns the test drilling licences, said it was disappointed in the delay but that further research would remove locals’ fears.
Labour MP Jan Vos told Radio 1 news his party would probably vote against shale gas when the issue finally comes to parliament. Without Labour backing there is not a majority in favour of the plans.
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