Despite soaring energy prices and a shortage of natural gas supply in the European Union, the Dutch government has taken the decision to proceed with the closure of natural gas wells in the Groningen region. The field is one of the largest in the world, worth up to 1000 billion euros. But for now, it’s a treasure that will remain untapped for the foreseeable future.
The reason the decision was made was because of seismic tremors triggered by gas extraction in the area. Some 1,200 earthquakes have been recorded so far, with around 27,000 homes severely damaged and deemed unsafe. So says Jan Wigboldus, chairman of the Groningen Gas Council, an umbrella group representing civil society organizations in the affected region.
But a growing number of experts are urging the government to reconsider its decision – and extend gas extraction for at least a few more years. This, they say, could help secure future gas supplies and help lower energy prices.
Machiel Mulder is professor of energy market regulation at the University of Groningen.
“The pitch could be reopened in the event of an emergency. So when people living in Germany, Estonia or other countries actually experience a gas shortage, it is an emergency situation. And then the decision will be reconsidered whether or not to reopen the Groningen gas field to produce more.
An alternative to extracting gas domestically is importing gas from abroad. The Netherlands has now commissioned an additional LNG terminal. Other countries, such as Germany and France, are also setting up new infrastructures to import liquefied natural gas.
Some 81,000 jobs are linked to the Dutch greenhouse industry and half of the companies are facing financial problems due to rising gas prices.
Expanding extraction from the Groningen gas field could improve their situation, but the industry is also taking steps to adapt to the new reality, as greenhouse manager Juliska van der Breggen explains.
“We had to close a site and 30% of our employees had to say goodbye. The problem is high energy prices, and we need to reduce our energy consumption. It is possible to reduce by 30% Our entire branch, we can reduce 900 million cubic meters of gas.”
To put that into perspective, 900 million cubic meters of gas is the equivalent of powering three Dutch cities.
But will actions like this be enough? The Netherlands have restarted their coal-fired power stations and that’s bad news for the climate. Using gas from Groningen would be less harmful to the environment, but for now, at least, the government seems unlikely to reverse its decision.