Government slammed for pressing ahead with Groningen gas shutdown

A gas drilling site. Photo: Graham Dockery
A gas drilling site in Groningen. Photo: Graham Dockery

The government’s decision to continue closing down the Groningen gas fields, despite the war in Ukraine, has come under fire from critics, who say the decision is incomprehensible given the uncertainty of energy supplies.

Mines minister Hans Vijlbrief said on Friday that the government will press ahead with its plans to stop production by 2023 in order the guarantee the safety of people living in the province. The Groningen fields, he said, are the ‘ultimate remedy’ if the supply of gas for hospitals and private households dries up.

Ministers are unwilling to turn the taps back on fully in Groningen, given the impact on the local community from earthquakes as the land settles, and the fact that thousands of people have not yet been compensated.

However, Dutch energy experts told MPs last month the Netherlands could reduce its use of Russian gas in the short term with a variety of measures, including potentially extracting more gas from the Groningen fields.

According to research institute TNO around 20% of the gas the country imports comes from Russia, but that within three months the country could find alternatives.

Three weeks ago, a government task force charged with advising officials on gas deliveries, said that extra gas should be extracted from under the northern province to fill up reserves and ensure sufficient supplies for next winter.

TNO’s director of gas technology René Peters told the Financieele Dagblad that ‘it is as if the minister is not worried about the threat heading our way’.

‘We have to look more critically at our reliance on Russian gas and the certainty of supply, but he is stuck on closing down Groningen more quickly,’ Peters said.

Major users

Vijlbrief has also refused to rethink current policy which says major users, such as the Tata steel works in IJmuiden, will have to cut back on work if they are faced with a shortage of gas.

‘We can’t wind down industry for months, just like that,’ Hans Grünfeld of the major users association VEMW, told the FD. ‘That will permanently damage companies, society and our competitive position internationally.’

The government’s position, he said, illustrates an extremely naïve view of the world. ‘We have to talk now to people in Groningen about extracting more gas and work on a good compensation package.’

On Tuesday, all but the three far-right parties in parliament voted in favour of a motion calling on the government to publish its plans to reduce the Netherlands’ dependency on Russian oil, coal and gas by May 1.

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