Concerns about a cold winter for Europe remain serious as EU and UK governments develop plans to deal with the situation.
And while Hungary states that some of the sanctions against Russia should fall, and our government continues to hope that negotiations with Gazprom will be resumed, one of the countries in Europe holds a possible solution to the situation. But he doesn’t want to use it.
The Groningen gas field, in the north of the Netherlands, has been a key source of natural gas for the country, as well as parts of Germany, since the 1970s, at one point meeting all of the Netherlands’ gas needs.
The deposit is one of the largest in the world, and its value is estimated at 1,000 billion euros. But for now, this is a treasure that will remain unused for the foreseeable future.
Despite skyrocketing energy prices and a continent-wide shortage of natural gas supplies, the government in Amsterdam has decided to go ahead with plans to shut down natural gas wells near Groningen.
The reason for this is the fact that since gas extraction began there in the 1960s, the area has been associated with over 1,200 earthquakes and increased seismic activity. And while local residents have so far received about $1.2 billion in compensation for damage to their properties so far, they are extremely negative about the idea of the gas field continuing to be used.
According to statistics, around 27,000 homes have been seriously affected by the multiple tremors in the Groningen area so far, and they are now considered unsafe to live in.
According to Jan Wigboldus, president of the Groningen Gas Council, a non-governmental organization representing local interests in the affected region, if the gas field work continues, it will lead to more seismic activity and put more people at risk.
However, more and more experts are calling on the government to reconsider its decision and extend gas production for at least a few more years. According to them, such a move will help ensure future gas supplies and, accordingly, lower energy prices – both for the Netherlands itself and for Europe.
Prof. Michael Mulder, a specialist in the regulation of energy markets at the University of Groningen, commented on the situation to Euronews, and according to him the exploitation of the deposits could be an acceptable move in emergency situations.
“The field can be reopened in case of an emergency. And at a time when people living in Germany, Estonia or other countries are really experiencing a gas shortage, that is an emergency. So the decision whether to reopened the Groningen gas field to produce more,” he believes.
An alternative to the production of gas from the Groningen wells is the import of blue fuel from abroad.
The Netherlands has already commissioned an additional LNG terminal. Meanwhile, other countries such as Germany and France are also building new infrastructure to import LNG.
Another view on the subject comes from the Dutch greenhouse industry, which provides about 81 thousand jobs in the country. From there, they are categorical that half of the companies in the sector already have financial problems due to rising gas prices.
Expanding production from the Groningen gas field may ease their situation, but the industry is also taking measures to adapt to the new reality, explains greenhouse manager Juliska van der Breggen.
“We had to close one of our greenhouses and part with 30% of our employees. The problem is high energy prices and because of them we have to reduce consumption,” she explains.
According to her, the optimal restrictions in gas consumption are around 30 percent, and for the entire industry – up to 900 million cubic meters of gas. That’s a serious amount that could power three Dutch cities.
However, all these restrictions would come with their price – cuts in jobs as well. And for the country’s greenhouse industry, Groningen is the solution to this problem.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands has restarted its coal-fired power plants again – something that many environmentalists saw as bad news for the climate. Using gas from Groningen would be less harmful to the environment, but for now, at least, it doesn’t seem likely that the government will change its mind.
The natives of the region themselves also cannot be convinced that the continued exploitation of the deposit is a good idea. Many of them have already seen roofs and entire buildings collapse and believe that exploiting gas wells is a bad idea.
“They say it’s safe, but we don’t believe it. We don’t use our barn anymore, and my opinion is that the government has ‘legally’ taken it away from us,” says one local farmer, whose barn was badly damaged in an earthquake 8 years ago . He has since received compensation money, but the condition of the building has deteriorated every year despite repairs.
“The Dutch government is facing a rather serious dilemma with the Groningen gas field, as there are at least three serious obstacles. The first is the existence of long-term contracts with German companies that last a long time until 2030. The second is the energy crisis that started before year, and the third is conventional war in Europe caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Jara Marusik, an energy security expert at the University of Groningen, told CGTN.
Back in May this year, the Dutch government said it had no plans to increase gas production from the Groningen field, but growing pressure on energy supplies across Europe may leave few alternatives.
Opponents and supporters of the idea of ”Europe’s hidden gas treasure” continue to argue about whether the idea of exploiting it further is a good one.