On 10 July 2015, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Mr Kamp, published the results of the environmental impact assessment (so-called plan MER). Based on the results of this assessment, the Minister has decided that no drilling for shale gas will take place during the current cabinet term. In addition, the Minister has decided that no commercial exploration or extraction of shale gas will take place over the next five years. Moreover, the existing licenses for exploration activities relating to shale gas will not be renewed. At the end of 2015, the government will take a decision on the role of shale gas in the long-term energy mix within the Netherlands.
Results of the assessment
Since 2013 there have already been various studies conducted on the variety of possible effects of the shale gas exploration in the Netherlands. The social, environmental and economic factors relating to extraction have been carefully considered. The Draft Memorandum, which formed the basis for the environmental impact assessment and was published on 28 May 2014 (see our earlier updates). The Minister sought advice from legal advisors (the Agency of cultural heritage, the Inspection for the Environment and the Director of Regional Affairs of the Ministry of Economic Affairs) and administrative bodies, including the relevant authorities in Germany and Belgium. As there has been continuous prohibition on exploratory drillings, it is still not clear how much shale gas is present and whether the exploration of shale gas in the Netherlands would be profitable. It follows from these studies that, it remains unclear what the effects of drilling for shale gas deep below the surface of the ground will be. Therefore, a proper political balancing test on the advantages and disadvantages of the exploration of shale gas, as part of the future Dutch energy mix cannot be made at this point in time. Consequently, commercial exploration activities or commercial extraction will not take place in the next five years.
Next steps - Energy mix in the Netherlands
In December 2015, the Energy Report 2015 will be published containing the decision whether or not to exclude shale gas as an option in the Dutch energy mix. In early 2016, a draft structure plan will be offered to the government, incorporating the decision taken at the end of 2015. In this draft structure plan a long term spatial planning strategy will be developed. The Minister indicated that, if it follows from the Energy Report 2015 that shale gas cannot be excluded as an option for the future energy mix, a research program could start mid-2016, while test drillings can be carried out under the control of the government as of 2018. In any case commercial drillings are not allowed until 2020.