The gas debate in the Netherlands

Wednesday February 26, 2014 09:49

The Netherlands is a gas country. But currently fierce debates take place about the gas production from the Groningen reservoir and the potential production of shale gas. Will gas continue to benefit the Dutch economy and deliver energy independency? Is it a sustainable energy source? Or does it delay further investments in renewables? And what are the risks of gas production locally, nationally and globally?

After protests of people in the province of Groningen against gas production and accompanying earth quakes, the government recently decided to lower gas production. Simultaneously discussions about shale gas are going on and many questions stay unanswered.

With their background in strategic energy and climate issues and social acceptance of energy innovations, researchers of the unit Policy Studies give their opinion on the natural gas debate and whether we need shale gas in the Netherlands and how the shale gas debate should be held.

Do we need Dutch natural gas?
Jeroen de Joode, gas expert says: “The recent agreement on a lower production level for the Groningen reservoir in particular around Loppersum is reasonable given the economic and financial interests at stake but whether it is sufficient remains to be seen. The newly agreed limits for the upcoming years are not far off from the actual production limits that were already in place and do not guarantee an end to underground seismic activities. From a security of supply perspective it may have made sense to already decide on lower production limits some years ago, as that would have prolonged the lifetime of the Groningen reservoir. In the short term however, the government will have to take into account the private contracts for gas delivery that have been signed by gas company GasTerra to clients in the Netherlands and abroad. These contracts do not allow a unilateral deviation from delivery profiles.”

Do we need shale gas?
Jeroen de Joode: “Whether we need shale gas depends on the perspective you have. When you look from the perspective of the gas market, the technology can be very useful. We have an efficient gas infrastructure and natural gas plays a significant role in our energy system and economy. Due to the depletion of our gas fields, alternative gas sources are necessary to postpone the moment that we need to import (more expensive) gas.
However when we look at shale gas from a climate perspective, we don’t need it. The Dutch and European shale gas reserves are not sufficient to be a real substitute for more polluting resources like oil and coal. On a global level we already have more conventional gas reserves than we can permit ourselves to put to use if we want to have a reasonable chance of liming global warming to the 2 degrees limit. And although shale gas could be combined with cap-ture and storage of CO2 in a low carbon future energy system, it seems to be more efficient to combine the latter with coal.”

How should we discuss shale gas?
Suzanne Brunsting and Matthijs Uyterlinde, specialized in societal acceptability of energy innovations compare the shale gas debate with the past discussion about underground CO2 storage. They warn to not make the same mistakes again.

Brunsting: “The shale gas debate is roughly dominated by three parties: the industry being an enthusiastic proponent, hesitating politicians and citizens who have their doubts. This is comparable to the situation five years ago when Shell and the national government wanted to start a demonstration project of CO2 capture and storage in Barendrecht. When local politicians and citizens expressed their doubts the national government and industry replied with more research, reports, facts and numbers. This led to more frustration in the community and finally the minister decided to cancel the project due to ‘a lack of public support’.
We should try to avoid that the discussion about climate change and the transition of the energy sector will again be transformed into a local fight against a project. The debate about shale gas therefore should include the technological uncertainties and be open for normative visions.”

Read more:
Presentation about the need and necessity of shale gas in the Netherlands (in Dutch)
Contact: Jeroen de Joode
Article on comparison of debates about shale gas and CO2 capture and storage (in Dutch)
Contact: Suzanne Brunsting

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Category: Corporate, Policy Studies