Gas extraction in Groningen to be reduced to zero

Milieudefensie and Groningen residents dump fracking earthquake rubble in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in The Hague, 26 Oct 2017
Milieudefensie and Groningen residents dump fracking earthquake rubble in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in The Hague, 26 Oct 2017Photo: @milieudefensie / Twitter

Gas extraction in Groningen will gradually be reduced to zero, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in his weekly press conference on Thursday. He called it an "important decision". Shortly after the press conference, the government released a statement saying that gas extraction in the province will be reduced to less than 12 billion cubic meters per year by 2022, and then to 7.5 million cubic meters per year. "In the years after that gas extraction will be reduced to zero."

Responsible Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate also informed the Tweede Kamer about this in a letter. 

"The consequences of gas extraction are no longer acceptable in society. The earthquakes cause damage to homes and buildings and create uncertainty among residents", the government said. "Continuous gas extraction, flanked by massive compensation, repair and reinforcement operation, is not a sustainable situation."

In February the state supervision on mines SoDM advised the government to reduce gas extraction from the Groningen field to 12 billion cubic meters per year. The government will reduce gas extraction in the province to this level, and go further by reducing it towards zero after 2022. "For the government safety comes first and that is why gas extraction from the Groningen field will be completely terminated. By removing the cause of the earthquakes, safety in the area is greatly improved."

Increasing the safety in the region doesn't automatically fix other societal concerns facing Groningen, like shrinking, sustainability and employment, the government said. "The government is working with the region on a vision for the future of the area." In the coalition agreement the government reserved 2.5 percent of natural gas revenues to tackle these problems. Now the government decided that this amount should not be tied to the levels of gas extraction in Groningen. The government is therefore looking at a "substantial, multi year contribution" to Groningen. How much this will involve was not announced.

A number of measures will be implemented on both the supply and demand side in order to reduce gas extraction in Groningen to zero. This includes a new nitrogen plant being built in Zuiderbroek, which will convert high-calorific gas to be converted into low calorific gas. The government is pushing 500 million euros into this plant. By 2022 all large industrial users of Groningen gas must be switched to using high-calorific gas or another sustainable source. The government is in the process to contact all 1700 involved companies. The government will also decrease the supply of low calorific gas to Germany, France and Belgium in the coming years. 

"Dutch households will also have to contribute to the reduction of gas production", the government said. Investments in, among other things, the nitrogen plant in Zuidbroek are included in the transport costs. The government is working on converting existing homes to natural gas free, and asked participants in the climate agreement to propose ways in which central heating boilers can be phased out quickly. A number of these participants already came up with suggestions. The cabinet is also working with the home appliances sector on ways to stimulate the switchover from gas hobs and gas ovens to electrical appliances for private individuals.