Council of Ministers takes gas decision on Groningenveld: pilot light or more?

The Council of Ministers today decides how much gas should be extracted from the Groningen soil in the coming gas year (from 1 October to 30 September). On Monday, the outcome will be announced in Groningen.

Traditionally, gas extraction company NAM will hear the final gas decision of the Ministry of Economic Affairs before 1 October – the beginning of the new gas year. In any case, Vijlbrief wants to keep the field open in the coming year by putting 11 wells on ‘the pilot flash’.

According to him, this requires an additional 2.8 billion cubic meters of gas to be extracted. This allows compressors that are needed to get the gas out of the ground to keep working and the remaining wells can remain operational. Under his predecessor Eric Wiebes, wells have already been sealed with concrete, because gas extraction would stop altogether in 2022.

There is a lot of pressure on Vijlbrief to increase gas extraction again, due to a possible gas shortage in winter and high gas prices. But the Secretary of State does not want to extract more gas for the time being, because extraction in Groningen is still not safe.

Thousands of buildings already need to be strengthened, with the current low production. If production is increased again, the seismic risk increases and, depending on the amount of gas to be extracted, many more houses must be strengthened to meet national safety requirements.

Slow reinforcement surgery

In the CCEIT-NPO Radio 1 podcast, Vijlbrief lays gas in Groningen, won or lost? explains that he regularly goes to Groningen to hear from the victims what problems they face with the damage handling and the slow reinforcement operation. At least 13,000 buildings must be reinforced so that they do not collapse immediately in the event of heavier quakes. Despite the already reduced production, this still needs to be taken into account.

The stories of the people of Groningen strengthen him in the conviction that gas extraction must end as soon as possible. But he also says, โ€œI‘m under a lot of pressure, I hope I win that fight.โ€

As far as Vijlbrief is concerned, the gas tap will only open when houses can no longer be heated or people are at risk, for example because hospitals and care homes can no longer be heated, or if there is a shortage of diesel oil. Ambulances and military vehicles run on diesel, which is made with natural gas.

Technically not possible

About scenarios โ€œWhat if…?โ€ Vijlbrief doesn’t want it yet, they haven‘t been discussed yet this year anyway, he says. In April next year, he must decide to fill the gas stores in Norg and Grijpskerk for the winter of 2023-2024.

Only then does he want to talk about that. He rejects rumors that another 45 billion cubic meters of gas will be extracted from Groningen in the event of a gas shortage. โ€œ45 billion cubic meters is technically not possible anyway. And 20 is also far too much for safety and 10 is actually too.โ€

No effect on gas price

A common argument for continuing to open the gas tap is the current high gas price. But according to Vijlbrief, more Groningen gas will not lower the price. โ€œI’m an economist and most economists agree that extracting more gas in Groningen has no effect on the price. The gas market is a very large market, covering many billions of cubic meters. The economy shows that if you add just a little bit, that has no effect on the price. In addition, Groningen gas is a different type of (low-calorific) gas than that on the global market,โ€ explains Vijlbrief.