Gas in Groningen, The Netherlands dirty little secret

Before moving to the Netherlands I was blissfully unaware of this tiny self-proclaimed progressive country’s dirty little secret, gas. Not that gas, natural gas. There is a LOT of natural gas in Groningen, enough to make it the largest gas field in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The fact it exists is not of concern though, what is of concern is the damage that results from extracting this gas.

Sorry Sorry

In September, Marjan van Loon President of Shell Nederland responded to concerns raised in the Tweede Kamer about gas extraction in Groningen. Saying,

We acknowledge that the people of Groningen are dealing with most of the problems caused by gas extraction, which we in the Netherlands can thank for our prosperity… NAM has expressed its regrets and I can fully support that. So I can say too, “I’m sorry, sorry.”

Woah, dobbel sorry! The other representative from NAM (Dutch Oil Company comprised of Shell and Exxon) Rolf De Jong of Exxon Mobil Nederland agreed with the comment. They are both dubbel sorry.

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South Park parody of Tony Hayward’s apology after 2010 BP oil spill

Damage

In a study conducted by Groningen University, over 100,000 people’s homes have been damaged by gas extraction in the Groningen area. As a result, NAM has been ordered to compensate many of those affected in what could cost them billions.

Don’t worry though, everything is okay, CEO’s of two of the largest oil companies in the world said they were sorry. Everything is alright, all is well, relief! Their apologies will pay for new homes and repairs, will fund renewable energy technologies, and end the wave of escalating earthquakes. Oh wait, apparently sorry means nothing, NAM will continue extracting gas and Shell was even accused of blackmail earlier this year while lobbying to continue large scale gas extraction.

Since beginning extraction in 1963 over 60% of the reserves from beneath Groningen have been extracted. As the reserve depletes further, seismic activity becomes more severe and unpredictable.

If it is any consolation, when further damages do occur, I am sure that Shell and Exxon will be the first to offer their condolences. They are very sorry.

Dutch government to the rescue!?

Never fear, the progressive Dutch government will surely shut down this dangerous gas production and hold these companies accountable while investing in renewable energy, right? Right?

Well, sort of.

In 2014 gas extraction was over 44 billion cubic meters (BCM)5 and fears of depletion and earthquakes were mounting. As of writing this, the new governmental limit on gas extraction is 27 BCM for 2016 and 24 BCM until 2021 unless more is needed to heat homes in the event of a harsh winter. This is a staggering drop in gas production implemented by the government and is intended to reduce property damage caused by NAM. Democracy works, this time we can truly rejoice!

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Not so fast. Regardless of how much it is capped, the extraction of gas in Groningen continues while renewable technology stagnates, and this is where the Dutch government is failing. There are new regulations in place designed to reduce the damage caused by earthquakes that result from extraction, yet there is no guarantee that these measures will have such an effect.

The Dutch Windmill

The most ironic part of all of this is that the Netherlands is often seen by others and themselves as a  progressive country, or at least was before the alt-right popped its bleach blonde head up.

Windmills are a symbol of the Dutch and wind turbines can be seen all over the country. But the Netherlands has the third lowest renewable energy consumption in the EU, making it certainly not progressive in energy consumption. Makes me wonder if the turbines are strategically placed to be seen without doing much…

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Five well placed wind turbines I saw in Zuid-Holland

Fossil fuels

When people use the phrase “reliant on fossil fuels” they are referring directly to places like the Netherlands. For decades the Netherlands has been self-sufficient in meeting most of its energy needs from domestic sources of fossil fuels. Which has led to a rather lethargic approach toward renewable energy technologies as the infrastructure for burning fossil fuels has already been firmly established. Capping the extraction of gas in Groningen only makes gas a more stable domestic commodity for a longer period of time as depletion slows, maintaining the status quo. When not enough domestic gas is produced, it is imported, leading to higher costs of energy.

At present the Netherlands will not reach its 2020 renewable energy target of 14%. By contrast one could look at Norway, a leader in renewable energy technology who like the Netherlands also sits atop massive fossil fuel reserves. Norway has gone a different route and is instead focusing on exporting its fossil fuels, using the profits to invest in renewable energy technology.

Gas in Groningen: What’s the difference here?

Well one difference is that Norway’s government and companies invest in renewable energy technology. The Netherlands does not. Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden has said that Shell will not invest in renewable energy until it is proven to turn a profit. Shell has also been working with the Dutch government via the polder-model of policy making, while pushing its pro-gas for Europe platform. It was also found in 2015 to have successfully campaigned for lower 2020 renewable energy goals.

Fortunately with the revelations of the danger associated with the extraction of gas in Groningen the government has taken notice and drastically reduced gas extraction. However, there have not been any significant policies put in place pushing for more renewable energy to run parallel to these cutbacks. Parliament recently voted to close down coal power plants citing carbon emissions and a high cost to the environment. Yet there was no mention of investing in new renewable technology.

Gas it seems is here to stay.

Or is it?

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Hint, this is not the Netherlands pictured

Gas is here to stay

No, it is. In the second quarter of this year the fraction renewable energy was assessed at 6% based on the official EU regulations. New renewable energy production areas have come online this year, but as energy demands rise across the country, renewable cannot keep up at its staggeringly slow pace.

It seems that until the Netherlands changes its ways and drastically invests in new technology then gas will stay this country’s dirty little secret.

Gas in Groningen, don’t you wish I just meant farts now?

When a company apologizes it is important to know what they are apologizing for. With more context we can see that Shell really is sorry. Sorry that Groningen will continue being damaged because of energy production techniques from last century that they are not willing to give up yet, because it is profitable. They are sorry that they will have to pay so much compensation and they are sorry they keep resisting renewable technology, they regret it, they’re sorry, sorry. Just don’t expect them to change much.

Alec Bowie
Alec was born and raised in the sunny American state of Florida. Recently, he graduated from Leiden University with an MA in Philosophy and is most interested in politics and economics, focusing on human and environmental rights.

14 COMMENTS

  1. What do people like the author think the word “progressive” means? They SEEM to think it’s some general nomer for positive, acceptable things; anything that can be done right gets hung up on this word, and anything that one might consider amoral can never be “progressive”.

    So that they think they can say situations that happened centuries ago aren’t it; and that they’re shocked when confronted with the fact that “even” in a “self proclaimed progressive country” like the Netherlands (are there many people who aren’t proclaimed progressive by mostly themselves?) companies and the national governments hardly give two shits about things that don’t make them more money.

    It’s also not really a secret. You just didn’t know about it. People know about it, they just don’t care if it’s not their house that’s breaking down.

    Kind of a crap article to be honest.

    • Willful ignorance is no excuse for keeping the status quo. When the sea levels rise to engulf your house because of climate change due to your unwillingness to accept reality, it will be too late.

  2. I think it is rather easy to blame Oil and Gas companies. Why are these companies functioning? Who is generating the demand on the market? Are we stopping travelling by plane, switching to electric cooking and placing solar collectors to our rooftops? Are we creating the market for renewable? Let’s first all of us reduce the demand, before shutting down our precious source of energy, crucial to help us in the energy transition. If instead we want to import our energy from abroad, increasing our dependence and decreasing our energy security, go ahead in spreading only negative words on production companies.

    • Thus far, we don’t have a lot of choice. If you have to travel to the US or Australia, I’d like to see how you plan to get there without a plane. And even those of us who would like to install solar panels on our roof simply cannot afford it. If the energy companies are the lest bit forward-looking, they will see that fossil fuels are a dying industry. The smart ones will invest in renewables, which is how the world will eventually get all their energy. Norway produces their own sustainable energy. No reason we can’t either, apart from recalcitrant oil and gas companies.

  3. Excellent article. The oil and gas industries are dead if they refuse to adapt. There is no reason why the Netherlands cannot invest in renewable energy. The environment can’t sustain more fossil fuels.

  4. Did it occur to the author of this article that Norway has mountains and that most of it’s renewable energy comes from hydro electric power plants.
    Besides, what Norway is doing (exporting their oil), is greenwashing.

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond to this article, debate is greatly appreciated at Dutch Review.

      When writing the article, I wanted to note Norway’s willingness from the government and companies to invest in renewable energy technology despite sitting on large fossil fuel reserves. Yes, Norway is very well situated for hydroelectric, but they still invest heavily in research and mass production of other renewable energy technologies. For example, Norwegian company REC is a leader in solar tecghnologies, despite Norway not being well positioned to utilize solar efficiently.

      Norway has taken its natural advantage and used it to kick off other renewable energy technology markets. The Netherlands has a large coastline on the North sea, a great location for offshore wind turbines. But unlike Denmark with a very similar advantage, the Netherlands wind turbine sector is growing very slowly. Natural advantages are very helpful but you must be willing to use and invest in them.

      I do not think opening the Barents sea is greenwashing, though. Greenwashing implies deceit and not actually being “green”. Norway is drilling for more oil, yes, but there is no deceit about it. It was the first time in over 15 years new extraction had een allowed by the government, but over 60% of energy in the country comes from renewable sources. As countries transition away from fossil fuels the need to export oil for the major producers will drop drastically. When this happens Norway will be able to slow and then stop fossil fuel production. Until then, Norway is vital to maintaining energy security to many countries around the world. It is regrettable that this is the case, but a country that is energy secure can hopefully focus on new energy sources. If Norway simply stopped producing fossil fuels now, it would negatively impact many many countries that rely on its products and slow the transition toward renewables.

      As such, I feel Norway represents a country that is still producing fossil fuels but is at the same time also leading the way toward not needing fossil fuels in the future. The Netherlands by contrast is still producing fossil fuels and maintaining dependence on production and consumption while touting green policy, this to me, is greenwashing.

      • It would be of course silly to argue that the NL is lagging behind when it comes to sustainable energy, because the facts are clear. I am still not sure about Norway. You mention REC as an example of Norwegian green energy technology, I can name several Dutch examples, companies like Lagerwey wind turbines and tidal energy from Tocardo. I disagree however that the Dutch wind industry is growing very slowly. Last year and this year too, more then 500 Mw has been installed, total capacity by now of app. 4 Gw. (Denmark has 5, I think).

  5. Will the people give back the benefits they received for 70 years of Gas extraction in NL?

    Will NL rise its taxes higher, so that your vacantie would be taxed at 56% but at ..let’s say 65%?

    Cuz, check dutch statistics, gas revenue in the first decade of 2000 was the Second in contribution to Futch budget, right after tax income from citizen. corporate taxes were the third.

    Would NL buy more gas from evil Poetin or from evil Katar?

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