Council of State: Minister must explain why zero gas extraction takes so long
The Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate must provide better reasons as to why gas extraction from the Groningen field cannot be phased out more quickly after the current gas year 2018-2019. The Minister has not made it clear what can be done, and at what costs, to achieve a more rapid reduction in the demand for gas from major industrial consumers, the greenhouse horticultural sector and gas exporters. This was the ruling issued by the Council of State’s Administrative Jurisdiction Division today (3 July 2019).
The ruling comes in response to appeals lodged by residents of Groningen, the Groninger Bodem Beweging, the Groningen provincial executive and various municipalities in Groningen which object to the Minister’s decision to approve gas extraction.
Safety interests vs. security of supply
In setting the maximum volume of gas permitted for extraction in the gas year 2018-2019, the Minister weighed the safety interests of Groningen’s residents against the interests of meeting the demand for gas (security of supply). In considering those safety interests, involving the stress and health problems experienced by Groningen’s residents, the Minister attached great importance to the Cabinet’s decision, taken on 29 March 2018, to end gas extraction as quickly as possible.
Since safety is of paramount importance in such decision-making, the Minister must be able to offer a very clear explanation of how he expects to bring an end to gas extraction in the shortest possible term. And because the fundamental rights of Groningen’s residents are at stake, high demands have been placed on this explanation.
Reduce demand for gas
The Minister’s explanation does not meet these high demands for the period after the gas year 2018-2019, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division ruled. The Minister must make it clear in concrete terms why gas extraction from the Groningen field cannot be phased out more quickly. He has not done so for the major industrial, greenhouse and gas exporting sectors. Therefore, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division sets aside the Minister’s decision to approve gas extraction.
For the current gas year 2018-2019, the Minister has in fact fixed the level of gas extraction properly. For this gas year, the Minister has actually made it plausible that extracting a lower volume of gas could have significant societal repercussions. Furthermore, the Minister applied an acceptable standard to estimate the probability of the most serious safety risk, i.e. death as the result of an earthquake, for this gas year, and that standard will also be met. The Minister was therefore not required to lower the level of gas extraction for this gas year.
Gas extraction can go ahead this year, but afterwards?
The ruling indicates that the decision to approve gas extraction is satisfactory for the current gas year, but unsatisfactory in its explanation for the period after the gas year 2018-2019. Therefore, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division “has allowed the legal consequences of the voided approval decision to stand”. This means that the ruling has no effect on the extraction level permitted for the gas year 2018-2019. But the ruling does impact assessment of the so-called operational strategy the Minister will be required to make for the next gas year, after 2018-2019. For this strategy, the same interests will again have to be weighed up against each other, and thus the potential measures for phasing out gas extraction as fast as possible will once again be on the agenda.