‘Drill, baby, drill’ is back in Europe as the gas crisis looms

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But after the Dutch and German governments approved the development of a new gas field about 20 kilometers off the coast of Schiermonnikoog, the mayor of the island decided. is concerned 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 there is no need to drill” [for] no new gas at all and that we need to invest much more in renewable energy.”

The gas project, which spans German and Dutch territory in the North Sea, is just one venture that has been given the green light or is taking a different view in Europe and the United Kingdom after Russia invaded Ukraine. Europe is desperately looking for provide gas supplies that cannot be cut off by Moscow. Last week, EU leaders set a voluntary target to cut gas consumption by 15% by March 2023 to dodge a crisis once the weather turns.
Yet scientists, activists and residents of, for example, Schiermonnikoog are frustrated. They believe that governments are using the war in Ukraine as a political cover for projects that cannot start in time this winter and that could ultimately make it more difficult to control global warming.

The gas field at Schiermonnikoog will only supply gas to Dutch and German households in 2024. Once powered up, it can be in operation for decades, with permits valid until 2042.

“In principle, we have to get rid of all fossil fuels, and very quickly,” says Han Dolman, director of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, who is against the project. “It’s not an instant fix for anything” [related to] the Russian gas crisis.”

ONE-Dyas, the Dutch company leading the development, said it has been in regular contact with local stakeholders since 2018 and has prepared a comprehensive environmental impact statement that has been reviewed by regulators. Domestically produced gas also has a lower emissions footprint than natural gas imported from other countries, it added.

The great gas fever

Europe’s struggle to secure gas supplies comes as Russia expresses its readiness to punish the bloc for its support of Ukraine. State-owned Gazprom recently reduced flows through the critical Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of daily capacity.

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

Even if European countries manage to fill their gas supplies to 90% capacity, the region will likely still experience supply disruptions early next year if Russia decides to stop gas supplies from October, the IEA said.

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

It has also enabled politicians to support an expansion of the gas sector with a conviction unimaginable a year ago due to climate concerns. Since February, government officials have lifted production caps and approved new drilling sites, often in view of the need for pragmatism during a period of high stress.

Denmark, which announced plans in 2020 to phase out fossil fuel production, is encouraging extraction from North Sea fields that already have a permit. Hungary has said it will increase domestic natural gas production from 1.5 billion cubic meters to 2 billion cubic meters. Shell is continuing with a new natural gas development in the North Sea after the UK government gave the green light in June and overturned an earlier decision to block the project on environmental grounds.
“We are in the process of recharging renewables and nuclear power, but we are now also realistic about our energy needs,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Secretary of State for Affairs and Energy, tweeted after the decision. According to a new report from consultancy BFY Group, average utility bills in the UK could top £500 ($613) in January alone.
Construction work on the lock island in Brunsbuettel, northern Germany, early March.  The port on the North Sea could be a location for a new LNG terminal.
Meanwhile, governments are rushing 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 through pipelines from Russia. Global Energy Monitor, a US think tank, counts at least 25 projects to build or expand LNG terminals in Europe and the United Kingdom that have been newly proposed or revived since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

“You just see this 180-degree spin around the world,” said Oswald Clint, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein who focuses on the energy sector.

A long-term vision

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

Canada’s Zenith Energy, which last month said it was reactivating a well in northeastern Italy that will yield 1,300 cubic meters of gas per day, expects production to begin between October and December.

Luca Benedetto, the chief financial officer, said in a statement that the decision was taken “in the context of the increasing need for European domestic energy security and a very encouraging price environment.”

Others will not start for some time. Shell estimates that the Jackdaw gas field in the British North Sea will come online “in the mid-2020s”. A floating terminal capable of storing and regasifying LNG, recently purchased by Italian gas infrastructure manager Snam and to be installed near the coast of Ravenna, will not be commissioned until the second half of 2024.

Tara Connolly, a gas campaigner at Global Witness in Brussels, said one of her concerns is that the projects won’t be needed once completed.

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

In addition, given the timeline, renewables could fill the gap instead of natural gas, which Connolly says has a lower carbon footprint than oil and coal, yet contributes to global warming.

The ecological risk

It is an opinion that the mayor of Schiermonnikoog shares. She is also concerned about protecting a sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“My main concern is: [the] sinking of the bottom, which means that we also have problems with life on the water,” says van Gent.

Not far away is the onshore Groningen gas field — a joint venture between Shell (RDSA) and Exxon (XOM) which was once one of the largest sources of European gas supply – is being phased out due to earthquakes. A 2016 report found that there had been 271 seismic events of magnitude 1.5 or greater.
A bird stands at a pole of natural gas extraction machines and pipes at the onshore Groningen gas field.
This is less of a problem for the field near Schiermonnikoog, which will be at sea. But the ecological impact must also be taken into account, says Dolman, the scientist who, together with 432 others, signed a letter against the new Dutch development.

“It’s in a wildlife area, so it doubles in impact,” he said. “You have to be careful in these areas to do anything, let alone start new gas production platforms.”

Carsten Mühlenmeier, chairman of the German regulatory agency responsible for North Sea permits, said the “territorial sea is a sensitive area where undisturbed use should be favored over mining and private interests”, especially given the need to reduce the demand for fossil fuels. . Still, it gave its approval when the Netherlands signed and while the political wind turned in Berlin.

At Schiermonnikoog, a gas field is being considered.  Scientists oppose the development because of the risk it would pose to the park's ecosystems.

“The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has proved that ensuring energy supplies is a challenge, overriding certain security measures, especially environmental concerns,” Mühlenmeier told CNN Business.

Greenpeace has sued the UK government over Jackdaw’s approval, claiming the project’s environmental assessment was flawed because it failed to examine emissions from the combustion of natural gas.

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

— Rosanne Roobeek and Anna Cooban reported.





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