On September 27th, the exploration and gas production company ONE-Dyas announced a 500 million euros investment in natural gas extraction from the N05-A offshore field in the North Sea, 20 kilometres north of the islands of Borkum, Rottumerplaat, and Schiermonnikoog.
The decision comes after the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) authorized ONE-Dyas to develop the N05-A gas field in June. The green light followed an extensive evaluation process by the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA). In 2018, ONE-Dyas started discussing the project’s environmental implications with the stakeholders. A year later, after collecting feedback and incorporating the outcomes of these discussions in their reports, the company formally asked for permission from the Dutch authorities.
According to the company, the Dutch Government expressed its confidence in the “need and necessity” of the North Sea natural gas. However, the decision to extract gas from this area raises concern and protests from the residents, worried about the operation’s environmental impact.
“It’s not us who decide where to extract gas,” Corine Toussaint, ONE-Dyas External Affairs & Communications Manager, said. “During our talks with institutions,” the officer explained, “it emerged that the effects on the environment are negligible or acceptable.” In Toussaint’s view, going through such strict and regulated procedures is good because “if you are granted authorization for a certain operation, it means that the operation has a sustainable impact on the environment.”
Toussaint added that the company always kept an open discussion with every actor involved. “We do not want to convince people; we want to inform them based on facts, like the reports made by the NCEA,” she said. “I understand fears residents may have,” Toussaint continued, “but I also think that many relate our operation to what happens near Groningen. Ours is a different situation: the N05-A is a smaller, offshore field, and it does not cause any risk of earthquakes.”
Another critique of this project comes from the potential risk for the Wadden Sea and its flora and fauna. Toussaint specified that N05-A does not touch that area “at all,” mentioning that the offshore field is twenty kilometres away from the coast. “Considering the dimensions of The Netherlands, this distance is relevant. If we call twenty kilometres ‘near’, how do we define smaller distances?” she said.
Frank Petersen, Public Affairs Specialist at Waddenvereniging, an organization that stands up for the interests of the Wadden Sea, disagrees. “The North Sea and the Wadden Sea are two interconnected ecosystems. There are no artificial boundaries between the two seas,” he commented. Petersen explained that the subsidence is the same, and the gas extraction operation would seriously damage the Wadden Sea, while the effect on climate would be significant for both seas.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to the Wadden Sea and the North Sea. Companies still have projects to extract gas from this area: this makes no sense to us,” Petersen said, adding that the only solution is investing more resources and policies in the green transition. Waddenvereningig sees the combination of energy reduction practices and renewable sources as the way to tackle the ongoing energy crisis: “We all see buildings with unnecessary lights on, for example. Let’s start by reducing our consumption.”
Peterson did not comment on the content of the NCEA report. He appreciated the strict boundaries the government set, which forced the company to abandon unfitting ideas. “I remember from a draft that ONE-Dyas planned to dump liquids into the sea. We must have confidence that if this operation needs to be done, the company considers both local and global environmental effects,” Peterson added.
The project now enters a phase of concrete preparations, aiming to make gas available to Dutch households by winter 2024. ONE-Dyas expects to extract 4.5 to 13 billion cubic metres of gas from the N05-A field. Toussaint stressed the lack of alternatives that make this investment the “better solution for the time being.” “The alternative is to import liquid natural gas (LNG) from the United States via ships, with a carbon footprint of 30% higher,” Toussaint said.
Asked for a reply, Peterson said that this statement is “not serious.” “One of the most important ONE-Dyas shareholders, Marcel Van Poecke, also invests in LNG imports with another company, Tree Energy Solutions,” Peterson explained, adding that ONE-Dyas should disclose this detail clearly when discussing alternative solutions.