On September 30 2016 the minister of economic affairs published his final consent decision on the new five-year extraction plan for Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij BV (NAM).
The extraction plan describes:
- how NAM expects to extract natural gas from the Groningen gas field;
- the annual volume of natural gas to be extracted; and
- how to mitigate any negative effects resulting from these gas extractions.
Before finalising the extraction plan, stakeholders and other third parties (eg, the Groningen and Drenthe provinces, several nearby municipalities, the State Supervision of Mines and the Technical Committee Soil Movement) are requested to advise NAM on the draft extraction plan. On the basis of the Mining Act, the minister must formally approve the extraction plan by a consent decision. A draft consent decision was published during the summer to allow parties to submit their views.
The causal link between gas extraction in the Groningen field area and increased seismic activity has been a topic of ongoing debate (for further details please see "Latest developments on Groningen field gas extraction").
Conditions for extraction
Before the official publication of the final consent decision, on September 23 2016 the minister announced the key elements of the decision in a letter to Parliament:
- The maximum extraction volume of Groningen natural gas will be lowered from 27 billion cubic metres per year (the original maximum extraction volume set out in the draft consent decision) to 24 billion cubic metres per year (as advised by the State Supervision of Mines).
- Only in the event of a colder than average winter and only for that specific period will an upward adjustment of the maximum extraction volume to 30 billion cubic metres be permitted.
- Extraction of natural gas must be performed as evenly as possible, to reduce the risk of earthquakes and any resulting damage to buildings.
Nineteen parliamentary motions were put to a vote during the debate in the Second Chamber of Parliament before publication of the final consent decision.
The motions which passed concerned subjects such as:
- the organisation of independent damages assistance;
- increased periodical inspections; and
- the annual review of whether the extraction level can be reduced.
The motion regarding the annual review was taken into account by the minister through a condition included in the consent decision, which states that NAM is obliged to perform an annual review of its measuring and regulation protocol as a result of new insights or if changes of facts or circumstances require an adjustment.
The parliamentary motion on lowering the extraction volume to a maximum of 21 billion cubic metres per year for a maximum period of one year was rejected, along with the motion for an inquiry to phase out demand for Groningen gas.
Administrative appeal procedure
From the publication date of the final consent decision in the State Gazette, a six-week period (September 30 2016 to November 11 2016) is open for interested parties that have submitted their views on the draft consent decision to appeal to the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State. The minister informed Parliament that 5,530 views on the draft consent decision were submitted. Therefore, the authors believe that an administrative appeal procedure may be expected.
NAM must submit its next extraction plan before October 1 2020 for natural gas production as from 2021.
Max WF Oosterhuis and Léone Klapwijk
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