New decision needed on gas extraction in Groningen
It says that the minister’s reasoning should have explained more clearly the risk for people in the earthquake zone. Neither has he adequately explained why security of supply has been taken as the lower limit for the volume of gas to be extracted, despite uncertainty about the consequences. Furthermore, he has failed to make clear potential measures to limit the demand for gas. The minister is granted a year to reach a new, better substantiated decision. Gas extraction will continue until that time. The Administrative Jurisdiction Division has said in its ruling that exploration and production company NAM may continue to extract gas in the intervening period.
Decision and amendment decision set aside
The Administrative Jurisdiction Division has set aside both the decision of the Minister of Economic Affairs of September 2016 and his amendment decision of May 2017. This amendment decision permitted NAM to extract 21.6 billion cubic metres of gas per gas year from the Groningen field over the next few years. Around 20 objectors appealed against both decisions, including Groninger Bodem Beweging, individual citizens, the Groningen provincial executive and various municipalities in Groningen.
Risks in the earthquake zone
The minister based his decisions on the impossibility of assessing the risks of gas extraction for people in the earthquake zone. However, he failed to convince the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the accuracy of this position. The minister should in any event have studied the options for mapping out the risks in greater depth, or better explained why he consented to the extraction level of 21.6 billion cubic metres without such a study. The Administrative Jurisdiction Division considers it "unacceptable" that the minister determined gas extraction for five years, without having assessed the attendant risks. If it was indeed impossible to assess the risks, "the minister could at least have been expected to examine and explain how the safety interests of the individuals in the earthquake zone would otherwise be considered in the decision-making," according to the Administrative Jurisdiction Division.
Security of supply
The minister believes it is important that he is able to meet the demand for gas via the volume extracted (the security of supply). The 21.6 billion cubic metres per gas year meets this demand. In the view of the Administrative Jurisdiction Division, the minister rightly considered security of supply in his deliberation. But because the question is really whether the risk of the permitted gas extraction is acceptable, and because the minister set the gas extraction for five years, he should have better explained why he adhered to security of supply as the lower limit for the volume of gas to be extracted. "The minister should have explained more clearly why in this scenario, there are no circumstances which would require less gas to be extracted than the volume needed for security of supply during the period. There have long been uncertainties concerning the risk," according to the Administrative Jurisdiction Division. The minister should also have explained more clearly the options to reduce the volume of gas required to ensure security of supply.
Given the shortcomings in the minister's decisions, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division has set aside these decisions. If this were accepted, the 2007 extraction plan would come back into effect. This would allow NAM to extract unlimited amounts of gas, leaving objectors in a worse position than they would have been in had the Administrative Jurisdiction Division not set aside the decisions. That is unacceptable. In its ruling, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division has thus included an 'interim provision' as a temporary measure. This provision allows gas extraction to take place in accordance with the most recent amendment decision, temporarily allowing NAM to extract 21.6 billion cubic metres of gas in the coming year. This interim provision will remain in force until the minister's new gas extraction decision comes into effect.
Gas extraction in Groningen
NAM has been extracting gas from the Groningen field since 1963. Gas extraction takes place in four regions in Groningen – Loppersum, South West, Eemskanaal and East – almost all of which incorporate multiple production locations. In September 2016 the Minister of Economic Affairs decided that total gas extraction from the Groningen field would be reduced from 39.4 billion cubic metres in 2015 to 24 billion cubic metres in 2016. In May 2017 he decided that total gas extraction up to 2021 could not exceed 21.6 billion cubic metres, starting from the gas year 2017-2018.
Read the full text of the November 2017 Interim Report on Budgetary Monitoring here (pdf, 83 kB).