The government of the Netherlands is holding out on when to close Europe’s largest gas field — Groningen — despite gas grid operator Gasunie’s request to reverse the plans.

The government confirmed last month that production from the Groningen field will end by 1 October 2024 at the latest, but indicated that the shutdown could occur as early as October this year.

State Secretary for Mining Hans Vijlbrief is set to announce the final date for closing the field before the Dutch parliament breaks for its summer recess.

Groningen was discovered in 1959 and began supplying customers in northwest Europe in 1963. Production had declined to a minimum maintenance level of 2.8 billion cubic metres of gas per annum last October, a fraction of the field’s 27 Bcm cap for the 2015-2016 gas year.

The decision to close the field was due to concerns about subsidence and tremors at the onshore field location, in the country’s northwest near the German border, and growing pressure to shift towards cleaner sources of energy.

Security of supply

Gasunie had proposed keeping the field open at a minimal production level of 3.2 Bcm per annum beyond 1 October 2023 in a bid to mitigate supply security risk in the Netherlands during the 2023-2024 winter season.

“The final closure of the Groningen field remains the aim, but the complete cessation of Russian gas import[s] and the uncertainty on the international gas and energy markets unfortunately mean that various scenarios are conceivable in which security of supply in the Netherlands cannot be sufficiently guaranteed next winter without the back-up availability of the Groningen field,” said Gasunie.

“The current geopolitical situation makes the final closure of the field in October 2023 risky from the point of view of supply.”

However, according to a letter published on the government website, Vijlbrief wrote: “At the moment I cannot yet give a definite answer about whether to close the Groningen field in 2023 or 2024.”

Vijlbrief wrote that the Cabinet is weighing the importance of public safety and security of supply before it makes its final decision on the closure.

He added that NAM — the Shell and ExxonMobil joint venture operating Groningen — will be asked to provide operational strategies, and Dutch consultancy TNO will be asked to provide a seismic threat and risk analysis for the field.

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