World · August 3, 2022

“Drill, baby, drill” is back in Europe as the gas crisis looms

But after the Dutch and German governments approved the development of a new gas field about 12 miles off the coast of Schiermonnikoog, the island’s mayor he is anxious about his future.

“We are very concerned that the gas drilling will damage the area,” Mayor Ineke said van Gent told CNN Business. “We also believe that drilling is not necessary [for] new gas and that we should invest much more in renewable energy “.

The gas project, which covers German and Dutch territory in the North Sea, is just a firm that got the green light or is taking another look at Europe and the UK after Russia invaded Ukraine . Europe is desperate guaranteeing gas supplies that cannot be cut off at Moscow’s whim. Last week, EU leaders set a voluntary target to reduce gas consumption by 15% until March 2023 to evade a crisis once the weather changes.
Yet scientists, activists and locals in places like Schiermonnikoog are frustrated. They believe governments are using the war in Ukraine as a political cover for projects that won’t be implemented in time to help this winter and which could ultimately make managing global warming more difficult.

The gas field near Schiermonnikoog is not expected to start supplying gas to Dutch and German households until 2024. Once lit, it could operate for decades, with licenses valid until 2042.

“In principle, we need to get rid of all fossil fuels and we need to get rid of them very quickly,” said Han Dolman, director of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, who opposes the project. “It’s not an immediate solution to anything [related to] the Russian gas crisis “.

ONE-Dyas, the Dutch company managing the development, said it has been in frequent contact with local stakeholders since 2018 and has conducted an extensive environmental impact report that has been reviewed by regulators. Internally produced gas also has a lower emissions footprint than natural gas imported from other countries, he added.

The great gas rush

Europe’s rush to secure gas supplies comes as Russia signals its willingness to punish the blockade for its support of Ukraine. State-owned Gazprom recently reduced flows through the crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of daily capacity.

The situation in Europe is “dangerous” and the region must prepare for a “long and hard winter”, according to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

Even if European countries manage to fill their gas deposits to 90% of their capacity, it is likely that the region will still face supply disruptions early next year if Russia decides to stop gas deliveries from October. said the IEA.

Sunrise over the gas receiving station of the Baltic Sea Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany.

The risk has pushed countries to find alternative fuel sources and to conserve what they can.

It also authorized politicians to support an expansion of the gas sector with a belief that it would have been unthinkable just a year ago due to climate concerns. Since February, government officials have lifted production limits and approved new drilling sites, often citing the need for pragmatism during times of high stress.

Denmark, which announced its intention to phase out fossil fuel production in 2020, is stepping up its extraction from already licensed North Sea fields. Hungary said it will increase domestic natural gas production to 2 billion cubic meters from 1.5 billion cubic meters. Shell is moving forward with new natural gas development in the North Sea after the UK government gave the green light in June, overturning a previous decision to freeze the project for environmental reasons.
“We are stepping up renewable energy and nuclear power, but now we are also realistic about our energy needs,” Kwasi Kwarteng, UK Secretary of Business and Energy, tweeted after the decision. Average energy bills in the UK could exceed £ 500 ($ 613) for January alone, according to a new report from consultancy BFY Group.
Construction work on the lock island in Brunsbuettel in northern Germany in early March.  The North Sea port could be home to a new LNG terminal.
Meanwhile, governments are racing to expand their capacity to receive liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which is an attractive alternative to gas from Russia because it can be shipped by allies on tankers rather than delivered via pipelines from Russia. Global Energy Monitor, a US think tank, has at least 25 projects to build or expand LNG terminals in Europe and the UK that have recently been proposed or taken over by the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

“You’re just seeing this 180-degree turn around the world,” said Oswald Clint, an energy analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

A long-term vision

Some of these gas projects could increase energy supplies to Europe this winter should Russian President Vladimir Putin cut off flows from Russia.

Canadian Zenith Energy, which said last month to reactivate a well in northeastern Italy that will produce 1,300 cubic meters of gas per day, expects production to start between October and December.

Luca Benedetto, chief financial officer, said in a statement that the decision was taken “in the context of the growing need for European internal energy security and a highly encouraging price climate”.

Others won’t start for a while. Shell estimates that the Jackdaw gas field in the UK’s North Sea will go into operation “in the mid-1920s”. A floating terminal capable of storing and regasifying LNG, which was recently purchased by the Italian gas infrastructure operator Snam and will be installed near the Ravenna coast, will not come into operation until the second half of 2024.

Tara Connolly, a gas activist with Brussels-based Global Witness, said one of her concerns is that the projects will not be needed once they are actually completed.

“Just before Ukraine, there was a real sense that Europe had enough gas infrastructure, even in the event of significant outages,” Connolly said. “Now it’s really a different picture.”

Also, given the timing, renewables could fill up the gap instead of natural gas, which has a lower carbon footprint than oil and coal but still contributes to global warming, according to Connolly.

The ecological risk

This is an opinion shared by the mayor of Schiermonnikoog. It is also concerned about the protection of a sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“My main concern is [the] sinking of the soil, which means we also have problems living on water, ”van Gent said.

Not far away, the Groningen onshore gas field, a joint venture between shell (RDSA) Other exxon (XOM) which was once one of the largest sources of gas supply in Europe, is in the process of extinction due to earthquakes. A report in 2016 found that there had been 271 earthquakes of magnitude 1.5 or greater.
A bird stands near a pile of natural gas extraction machinery and pipelines at the Groningen onshore gas field.
This is a minor problem for the camp near Schiermonnikoog, which will be offshore. But the ecological impact must also be considered, according to Dolman, the scientist who together with 432 others signed a letter of opposition to the new Dutch development.

“It is located in a nature reserve area, so it doubles in terms of impact,” he said. “You should be careful in these areas to do anything, let alone start new gas production platforms.”

Carsten Mühlenmeier, president of the German regulatory agency responsible for North Sea permits, said that “the territorial sea is a sensitive area where undisturbed use should be favored over mining and private interests”, especially given the need to decrease the demand for fossil fuels. However, he gave his good once the Netherlands signed and when the political winds changed in Berlin.

A gas field is being studied off the island of Schiermonnikoog.  Scientists oppose the development because of the risk it would pose to the park's ecosystems.

“The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has shown that securing energy supply is a challenge, overriding some security measures, especially environmental concerns,” Mühlenmeier told CNN Business.

Greenpeace is suing the UK government for Jackdaw’s approval, arguing that its environmental assessment of the project was flawed as it did not examine emissions from burning natural gas.

“It is completely irrational for the government to approve – and heavily subsidize – a project like Jackdaw that does nothing to address the energy price crisis while contributing to climate change,” said climate activist Lauren MacDonald. “Our dependence on fossil fuels is at the root of both crises, yet the government continues to try to move forward with new oil and gas projects.”

– Rosanne Roobeek and Anna 58,1an contributed to the reporting.