Netherlands to stop extracting gas from Groningen on October 1, except for emergencies
The extraction of natural gas in Groningen will be halted on October 1 after 60 years in operation, State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief said in a statement on Friday. The gas field was discovered in the late 1950s, and covers a large portion of the Groningen province, even extending under the Eems River, the Dollard Bay, and the Wadden Sea.
"We are really going to turn off the tap," Vijlbrief said. However, the wells will still remain open for another year, closing on October 1, 2024. This is to ensure there is a possibility to begin extracting gas again if an unexpectedly cold or harsh winter takes place, particularly as the Russian war in Ukraine is still ongoing. The announcement was not much of a surprise: Six of the eleven gas wells in the Groningen gas field area were already closed on June 1.
"It is an important moment after decades of gas extraction and especially the consequences of that gas extraction for the people of Groningen," Vijlbrief said. Residents of Groningen have been plagued by decades of earthquakes, and years of stonewalling by successive Cabinets that either disregarded concerns about the earthquakes, or ignored links between the earthquakes and gas extraction. While the earthquakes would rarely be considered strong when measured on the Richter Scale, they occur at a shallow depth and can lead to ground acceleration, making the earthquakes feel stronger.
It was a magnitude 3.6 earthquake in Huizinge in 2012 that finally pushed the Dutch government on a path to eventually stop extracting gas from the field. Still, they authorized the extraction of the highest amount of gas that the Dutch Safety Board said could still be considered the limit.
"The problems of the people of Groningen have not yet been solved and unfortunately the earthquakes will continue for years to come, but the source of all misery will be closed from October," Vijlbrief said on Friday.
However, a Labor party leader in the province said Groningen wants the gas wells closed as quickly as possible. "The door is still open. Stopping gas extraction is fine, but that is now being done under conditions. We do not want those conditions," said Tjeerd van Dekken to newswire ANP.
"All things considered, this is not a definitive stop with gas extraction," he continued. "Our starting point is the safety of the inhabitants. That is why we have always advocated zero gas extraction. It seems to be heading in that direction, but there are still gas wells that will remain open, in case there is a harsh winter and they still have to be used. But we definitely want to go to zero." That opinion also holds for emergencies, he said.
Vijlbrief did acknowledge that an alternative plan does need to be put together in case of emergencies.