Thursday, February 17, 2022

Netherlands: gas orders from Germany lead to discontent in dutch population

 Residents of the Groningen gas field suffer from earthquakes as a consequence of the year-long gas production. Germany however has ordered a higher amount of gas from the field that was bound to be shut down in 2026. The dutch side blame Germany to shift their problems to the Netherlands, hinting at the stagnating certification process of contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline (WELT):

When René Paas, the Dutch King's commissioner for the province of Groningen, travels to the seat of government in The Hague, every conversation begins with the question: What's the situation with the gas field? That's how he tells WELT on the phone. "Groningen has been associated with the gas production there and the associated problems for years."

Because of gas production, since the 1990s there have been an increasing number of smaller earthquakes that cause damage to residential buildings. In response to the loud protests of the Groningen population, the Dutch cabinet finally decided to initially reduce the subsidy significantly and then stop it in mid-2022. Gas production in Groningen will only continue until 2026 as an emergency solution for cold winters.

A project that Germany is now thwarting. As the “Spiegel” reported, German suppliers have probably ordered 1.1 billion cubic meters more gas for the 2021/22 financial year than planned. In addition, the commissioning of a nitrogen factory, which is to process imported gas for Dutch households in the future, has been delayed.

While the production volume was initially estimated at 3.9 billion cubic meters, it could now increase to 7.6 billion cubic meters. For Groningen this means: The earthquakes will not end too soon. Germany is jointly responsible.

Since 1963, the Dutch oil company NAM has been producing gas in the north-east of the province at Europe's largest gas field. A significant part of the production goes abroad, making the Netherlands an important gas exporter, especially for Germany. According to the data provider ICIS, in December 2021 alone, twelve percent of the gas imported in Germany came from the Netherlands, making the country the third largest supplier after Russia and Norway.

For the residents of Groningen, the tremors have long been part of the sad reality. Since the beginning of gas production, they have increased not only in number but also in strength. In 2020, the national weather institute KNMI reported 69 earthquakes. Although these were comparatively weak earthquakes, since the tremors occur close to the earth's surface, the effects are more intense than their magnitude suggests.

According to the citizens' initiative Groniger Bodem Beweging, around 176,600 damages were reported between 2012 and the end of 2020. Because even more gas now has to be pumped, the risk of earthquakes continues, explains the head of seismology at KNMI, Läslo Evers. "As an earthquake expert, I recommend that the government end gas production as soon as possible - also against the background that tremors will continue to occur after gas production has ended."

And how does NAM itself feel about the increased gas production this year? The press office says in writing that the feelings in Groningen can be fully understood, and that NAM would also prefer the final closure of the Groninger field by October 1st. The company declines a conversation and refers to the government.

In the Netherlands, reactions to the boost in gas production have ranged from concern to outrage. Former Economics Minister Stef Blok aired his concerns in a letter to his German counterpart Robert Habeck at the end of December. An increase in deliveries to Germany "poses a risk to the security of supply in the Netherlands", Blok is said to have written according to the "Handelsblatt".

The situation in Groningen is emotionally charged. Under the slogan "Respect for Groningen", thousands of people took to the streets in mid-January to express their displeasure at the increased gas production. Many citizens did not feel safe in their homes due to the risk of earthquakes, reports Royal Commissioner Paas.

The fact that victims had to wait years for compensation payments only increases the annoyance. “The Netherlands has made billions of euros from gas production, but only a little of it has arrived in Groningen. Many have completely lost faith in the government, feeling abandoned. And I understand the citizens.”

The fact that the Federal Republic is now loudly knocking on its neighbor's door is not just a symptom of sluggish gas production during the Corona crisis and an increased German focus on gas as a bridge energy in view of the energy transition.

The Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, which is supposed to supply Germany with Russian gas, also plays an important role, believes Frank Umbach from the European Cluster for Climate, Energy and Resource Security at the University of Bonn: "Russia did not fill up the gas storage facilities in the summer of 2020 , from which Germany gets gas in winter. Since then, Putin has politically blackmailed Germany. He emphasizes that he is willing to immediately supply gas to Germany in return for approval of the pipeline's certification."

This conflict of interest is reflected in the increased orders from the neighboring country. In order to evade the increasing dependence on gas from Russia, Germany is increasingly ordering from its neighbors. His balance sheet: "Germany dumps its unsolved problems on the Netherlands," says Umbach. He calls it “absurd and contradictory” that there is parallel opposition to Dutch plans to develop a new gas field in the North Sea – in German sovereign waters.

Should NAM actually stop producing gas, Germany would face a new challenge. “Of course we hope that the energy transition will mean that less gas will be consumed by 2030 than before. But that is highly uncertain. The energy-intensive economy in particular will remain dependent on gas, since the planned switch to hydrogen cannot be implemented anytime soon," predicts Umbach.

The fact that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is threatening sanctions against Nord Stream 2 in the event of a further escalation in the Ukraine conflict makes it increasingly unlikely that Russian gas will be used to supply energy - and puts Germany in a bind to look for alternatives. "Going it alone," says the political scientist, "such as the energy transition and Nord Stream 2 repeatedly lead to problems for our neighboring countries, as is the case now in the Netherlands."

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