Extraction operations on the Slochteren gas field in Groningen have been causing nearly daily earthquakes to rattle the province for years, but there are dozens of smaller gas fields scattered across the north. As industry attention turns toward exploiting these smaller fields, several northern municipalities have begun taking political action to prevent it.
Gas extraction and the issues it causes have been at the forefront of debate in the Netherlands for several years, with ongoing earthquakes in the Northern Netherlands leading to the Dutch government saying that gas drilling will be capped in the region starting in 2022. Earthquakes have become a regular occurrence in the North, with a 3.4 magnitude quake – one of the strongest on record – striking Westerwijtwerd in May of this year. More than 2,000 damage claims were filed following the large quake in May.
Friesland and Drenthe
Whilst the Groningen gas field is the largest in the Netherlands (and indeed Europe), there are dozens of smaller fields under the provinces of Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe that have not received the same attention. Municipalities across Friesland are taking a stand to try and limit further gas extraction: political parties and groups representing villages in the municipality of Smallingerland (Friesland) have teamed up to oppose more gas extraction, including fracking, and the municipality of Heerenveen is exploring legal options against beginning gas extraction in Langezwaag, which directly borders the 50,000 person city. Smallingerland (Friesland) also began exploring legal options to oppose gas extraction in 2017.
Despite protests from the Frisian municipalities of Heerenveen and Opsterland, Vermilion Energy, a Canadian company, was given the go-ahead to begin extraction from the small gas fields located within their borders. Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebesapproved of the operations in July of 2018, but earlier this month, the two Frisian municipalities sent two alderpeopleto the Dutch parliament in The Hague to object to Wiebes’ decision.
It seems that this lesser attention has spurred Vermilion Energy to expedite gas extraction operations in these smaller fields. These are concentrated in a small triangle, roughly bordered by the Frisian city of Heerenveen and the Drents municipality of Westerveld. Vermilion’s target locations in this area sit under a number of towns and villages, including Wapse, Eesveen, Vinkega and Nijensleek, amongst others.
The size of the area that Vermilion intends to mine is quite large, stretching across much of Friesland and Drenthe. The NAM, the natural gas company which operates in the region and is a partnership between Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, has also secured access to a small gas field near the village of Wanneperveen. It is not known precisely when gas extraction will start in these other small fields, but RTV Drenthe reports that extraction is expected by 2027 in Eesveen.
It has become evident that the interests of the local people, local government and the national government are not allied in purpose concerning gas extraction: continuous protests and campaigns from a mixture of citizens and parties to stop extraction are confronted with the reality of continued approval of new exploration sites by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Minister Wiebes, who studied energy supply at Delft University before working for Shell as an engineer in the ‘80s, is considered an expert in infrastructure planning and has given assent to each new attempt to mine for gas in the region, backing plans by the Canadian Multinational Vermilion Energy continuously, as well as other for other companies such as the NAM.