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.
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.
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!
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…
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?
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.