Earthquake-causing gas field a 'last resort', Dutch minister says

·2-min read
Workers rebuild homes in the northern Dutch town of Overschild, where earthquakes from natural gas extraction have made them unsafe

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Tapping the Groningen gas field, which is being wound down due to a series of earthquakes, should be a "last resort", a Dutch minister said on Tuesday, after a government advisory body suggested using the field to help fill gas stores.

Countries across Europe are racing to stock up on gas in case Russia stops supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Mines Council, an independent advisory body, said in a letter to the Dutch government that its current target of filling gas storages to 80% was inadequate.

"The goal should be to fill the storages to the maximum, not to the European minimum," it said.

"Using the Groningen field to fill the storages and as an emergency measure is, in the eyes of the Mines Council, a real option to take into consideration and prepare."

However, Hans Viljbrief, a junior economic affairs minister, said that idea was not realistic given other advisory bodies had pointed to the threat the earthquakes pose to human health.

"If all of Europe were shut off from gas by Mr. Putin, then we'd be in a different situation, a dangerous situation could arise" of acute physical shortage, he said. "Then there would be other considerations. But Groningen is the last resort."

Production from Groningen, Europe's largest gas field, is due to be halted by 2023.

About 6 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas used in the Netherlands, or 15% of gas consumed, came from Russia in 2021.

The government is counting on additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports, imports from Norway, and a national energy saving campaign to replace Russian gas by year-end.

On June 3, energy minister Rob Jetten said Dutch gas consumption was down 33% in 2022 from the year before, citing data from grid operator Gasunie.

On May 19, the government published plans for Groningen to produce 4.5 bcm of gas in the year ending in October, and none the following year.

On May 27, Jetten announced a subsidy plan to encourage filling Dutch storage facilities to meet the 80% threshold by October. They are currently at 42%.

On May 30, Dutch gas trader GasTerra said Gazprom was halting delivery of gas after it refused Russian demands to be paid in roubles. GasTerra had expected to receive 2 bcm of gas from Gazprom in May-October.

(Reporting by Toby SterlingEditing by Mark Potter)

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