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Dutch Minister says Groningen discussions with Shell/Exxon (NAM) may become ‘messy and bloody’

The minister did not want to reveal anything about the discussions about the claims handling with the owners of NAM, Shell and ExxonMobil. Wiebes fears that this will damage the State’s negotiating position. Those conversations may become ‘messy and bloody’, Wiebes said.

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad

Minister Wiebes is not chased with claims protocol for Groningen

Louis Hoeks • Economics & Politics

Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate (VVD) is not keen on drafting a protocol for the claims handling of gas extraction in Groningen. That turned out to be Tuesday during a noisy and sometimes emotional debate with the House of Representatives.

Wiebes: ‘It should be as soon as possible and not as fast as impossible.’ However, he said he would have to come up with a plan in the coming quarter to reduce gas use in industry, in homes and for export.

Wiebes is busy setting up a facility where victims of the earthquakes caused by gas production can report their damage. To this end, he negotiates with the province and civil society organizations: the Gas Consultation and the Groningen Soil Movement. They left the consultation on Tuesday because they do not agree with the draft protocol. Wiebes plans to go to table with them on Wednesday.

Large consumers and foreign customers

The minister wants the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) to no longer interfere with the claims desk, which must be ‘under public control’. With that he is referring to the newly established Institute Mining Damage. He also repeated the institution of a damage fund announced in the coalition agreement, which must be filled by NAM.

A motion supported by almost all the groups present, which only missed the signatures of the Forum for Democracy and Think, called for ‘within a few weeks’ to bring down gas production ‘as quickly and as realistic as possible’ and with the damage fund and a new damage protocol. ‘Negotiated and legally anchored’, according to Liesbeth van Tongeren (GroenLinks).

Create fog

The minister is prepared to reduce gas extraction as much as possible during this cabinet period without putting the financial consequences first. Wiebes said the gas tap could not close as quickly because large consumers and foreign buyers are ‘physically dependent on Groningen gas’. In the long term, the Netherlands has to get rid of natural gas altogether, he says.

According to the coalition agreement, Groningen gas production in 2021 must be reduced to 20.1 billion cubic meters. Wiebes said after the heavy quake at Zeerijp last week to want to reduce Monday more drastically.

The minister did not want to reveal anything about the discussions about the claims handling with the owners of NAM, Shell and ExxonMobil. Wiebes fears that this will damage the State’s negotiating position. Those conversations may become ‘messy and bloody’, Wiebes said.

Constitutionally legal

The left-wing opposition yesterday stated that gas production should be limited to 12 billion cubic meters. SP, GroenLinks, PvdA and the Party for the Animals also accused Prime Minister Rutte of ‘missing out on’ in the absence of a damage protocol. They also blamed him for not attending the debate.

Rutte wrote last Friday the long wait for a damage protocol to ‘regional parties’ in Groningen. Two days later he came back to this and he blamed the long formation. In June last year he had correctly argued that the formation should not be a hindrance to decide on the reduction of gas production. ‘Constitutional joke’, he called it then.

‘In the outgoing period, the Cabinet was not very receptive to proposals and did not feel the mandate’, said Wiebes.

Applause on the stands

The debate took place with great public interest and was regularly interrupted by applause from the stands. The start was postponed for three quarters of an hour, because about 150 Groningers, who had traveled to The Hague in two double-deckers, were in a traffic jam. On entering the Chamber Building and leaving the meeting room, a number of them sang the Groningen national anthem.

SOURCE

TEXT BOX IN THE ARTICLE

‘The conversations might become messy and bloody’

• Minister Eric Wiebes about the negotiations with NAM owners Shell and ExxonMobil.

Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate (VVD) in the House of Representatives during the debate on Gas production in Groningen.Foto: Phil Nijhuis / Hollandse Hoogte

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