A Dutch court on Friday rejected an application to have gas production halted at Eemskanaal due to concerns that continued extraction is causing earth tremors, saying complainants had not proved that stopping output would improve their safety. The provisional decision by the court, the Council of State, is the second to be made in two months regarding complaints over continued production from Groningen, Europe’s largest gas field, which has been blamed for an increasing incidence in recent years of small earthquakes which have damaged homes and buildings across the region. The Eemskanaal region of the gas field is named after a nearby canal, which is already being strengthened for better earthquake resistance.
The court’s ruling noted that production was already reduced by 23 percent from 2013 levels in 2014, and that did not lead to fewer earthquakes. The Eemskanaal section of the field produced around 2 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas in 2014, or a little more than 5 percent of the total 39.4 billion cubic metres theoretically allotted for the entire Groningen gas field this year.
The actual amount Groningen produces will almost certainly be much lower, as Economics Minister Henk Kamp is due to review production on July 1 under strong political and legal pressure to lower the cap. In February Kamp ordered production from Groningen to be cut back to an annualised rate of 33 bcm for the first half of 2015 after the country’s Safety Board said gas companies, regulators and the government had all failed to take the threat of earthquakes seriously enough. That move sent gas prices surging in Northern Europe. Point Carbon analyst Oliver Sanderson said regional prices did not move after Friday’s court decision.
Even if Eemskanaal had been ordered shut, production could be made up from other areas to keep Groningen’s entire production at between 30 and 35 bcm in 2015, he said. A majority of Dutch parliament members have said they oppose any production above current rates, implying annual production of no more than 33 bcm. Regardless of Kamp’s decision, challenges to his plans at the Council of State – a court that hears citizen complaints about government decisions – are set to continue.
The court will review a provisional stoppage ordered at nearby Loppersum, as well as its denial of the complaint at Eemskanaal, after the case gets a full hearing, scheduled for Sept. 10-11.