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 worries about his future.
“We are very concerned that gas drilling will damage the area,” Mayor Ineke said. van Gent told CNN Business. “We also believe that it is not necessary to drill [for] brand new gas and that we should be investing a lot more in renewables.”
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 Marine 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 produced an in-depth environmental impact report which was reviewed by regulators. Locally produced gas also has a lower carbon footprint than natural gas imported from other countries, he added.
The Great Gas Rush
The situation in Europe is “perilous” and the region must prepare for a “long and harsh winter”, according to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
Even if European countries manage to fill their gas reservoirs to 90% capacity, the region still risks facing supply disruptions early next year if Russia decides to cut off 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 empowered politicians to support an expansion of the gas sector with a conviction that would have been unthinkable just a year ago due to climate concerns. Since February, government officials have lifted production caps and approved new drilling sites, often citing the need to be pragmatic during a time of high stress.
“You just see this 180 degree turn around the world,” said Oswald Clint, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein who covers the energy sector.
A long-term vision
Some of these gas projects could boost Europe’s energy supply this winter in case Russian President Vladimir Putin stops flows from Russia.
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 very encouraging price climate”.
Tara Connolly, a gas campaigner at Global Witness based in Brussels, said one of her concerns is that the projects will not be needed once they are actually completed.
“Right before Ukraine, there was a real feeling that Europe had enough gas infrastructure, even in the event of a major disruption,” Connolly said. “Now it’s really a different picture.”
In addition, given the timing, renewables could fill 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. She is also concerned about the protection of a sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“My main concern is [the] subsidence, which means we also have problems living on the water,” van Gent said.
“It’s in a nature reserve 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, president of the German regulatory agency in charge of North Sea permits, said that “the territorial sea is a sensitive area where undisturbed use must be prioritized over mining and private interests”, especially given the need to reduce demand for fossil fuels. Yet he agreed once the Netherlands signed and the political winds turned in Berlin.
“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has proven that securing an energy supply is a challenge, which outweighs certain security measures, especially environmental concerns,” Mühlenmeier told CNN Business.
“It is completely irrational for the government to endorse – and heavily subsidize – a project like Jackdaw that does nothing to solve the energy price crisis while contributing to climate change,” said climate activist Lauren MacDonald. “Our dependence on fossil fuels is the root of both crises, but the government continues to try to move forward with new oil and gas projects.”
— Rosanne Roobeek and Anna Cooban contributed reporting.