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What preliminary environmental authorisations are required before commencing oil and gas-related activities?
As a rule, the erection and operation of mining installations requires – in addition to adherence to the regulations on exploration and/or production licensing – an environmental permit in accordance with the Environmental Permitting (General Provisions) Act. The act applies to all Dutch territory, including the seabed extending 12 nautical miles from the coastline. Where the Environmental Permitting Act does not apply (notably on the Dutch part of the continental shelf), an environmental permit must be obtained in accordance with the Mining Act. The minister is the competent authority to issue permits in either case. An environmental impact assessment can be part of environmental permitting in designated cases.
Mobile installations, except for those servicing a production location, do not require an environmental permit but may be used only following notification and submission of certain information to the minister of economic affairs. The erection and operation of mobile installations (regardless of whether an environmental permit is required) are subject to general rules laid down in the General Mining Industry (Environmental Rules) Decree, promulgated under the Mining Act.
Nature reserve protection
Initiatives in protected nature reserves, designated under the Nature Conservation Act (following the EU Birds and Habitat Directives), require a Nature Conservation Act permit. A recently adopted act to extend the scope of the Nature Conservation Act to the exclusive economic zone entered into force on January 1 2014.
Onshore initiatives that are not provided for in existing zoning plans will require separate zoning approval.
In June 2014 a new environment and planning bill was proposed to the House of Representatives, providing for a comprehensive set of laws relating to the environment and planning. The new bill will also affect environmental aspects of offshore mining activities and replace specific provisions in the Mining Act. The bill is expected to enter into force in 2019.
What environmental protection requirements apply to the operation of oil and gas facilities?
Other additional permits that may be required in the context of oil and gas exploration and production activities include building permits, planning consents, water discharge and water injection permits.
The amended Public Safety (Establishments) Regulation now applies to exploration locations for oil and natural gas (mining facilities). In short, this means that individuals and groups must be guaranteed protection against accidents associated with hazardous substances in a certain radius of the mining facility.
What are the consequences of failure to adhere to the relevant environmental regulations and to what extent can operators be held liable for environmental damage?
In case of non-compliance, the competent authority is entitled to impose penalty payments and take administrative action (the cost thereof can be recovered from the infringer). In addition, environmental permits may be withdrawn and criminal fines may be imposed.
EU Directive 2013/30/EC
The House of Representatives passed a bill to amend, among other things, the Mining Act in order to implement EU Directive 2013/30/EC on safety of offshore oil and gas operations and amending Directive 2004/35/EC on April 28 2015, together with four amendments. These amendments focus on fundamentals such as the reversal of the burden of proof with regard to mining damage and grounds to refuse exploration and production licence applications for mining activities. The amendment bill is still being debated by the Senate.
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