Disturbed relationships at Vries-10

The Knowledge Platform writes a series of blogs: what can 'the lessons of Groningen ' mean for other projects in the Northern Netherlands? The situation above the Groningen field does not appear to be isolated. We believe that providing insight into the lessons of Groningen can help solve problems in other projects and possibly even prevent such problems from arising. In this blog we discuss the social impact of the gas extraction project Vries-10.

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In the recent past (the period 2015 to the present) unrest has arisen in the municipality of Assen around the Vries gas field and the Vries-10 well. In early 2017, the Assen city council adopted a motion of regret about the conduct of the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM). That points to bad relations: quite special because the head office of the NAM is located in this municipality. Since the Minister's consent decree, there has also been  a lawsuit between several parties, including the municipality of Assen and the NAM, about the renewed production plan Westerveld, which includes Vries-10. In the meantime, the gas company has already extracted the profitable part of the gas field on the basis of an old extraction plan that does not include the specific well and has taken the well out of production at the end of 2018. A conflict is now dragging on over the preconditions for a gas production project that has already been operationally completed. All reasons to take a closer look at this case: what is going wrong in NAM's 'backyard'?

The reconstruction

The Vries-10 gas extraction project has a social impact in the municipality of Assen and in the Marsdijk district. We know this because on May 20, 2021 RTV Drenthe published a reconstruction of the state of affairs surrounding Vries-10. She made this reconstruction based on the Shell Papers and the work of a research team from RTV Drenthe, RTV Noord, Platform Authentic Journalism (PAJ) and Follow The Money.  The Shell Papers are a collection of documents that the PAJ requested from government organizations in 2019 with WOB requests. This includes e-mails, memos, policy documents that form part of correspondence about and/or with Shell and its subsidiary NAM. PAJ has revealed a large number of documents with seventeen different WOB requests and residents can also help search the documents for interesting passages. Such a journalistic project is unique in the Netherlands.

In this blog we walk past the developments at high speed, for a more complete picture you can visit the reconstruction of RTV Drenthe .

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Lessons from Groningen for the situation around Vries-10

NAM's approach to gas extraction from Vries-10 appears to have been common for gas extraction from small fields for a long time. NAM implements part of the Dutch small fields policy, the government's plan to extract the gas for own use and export. NAM has been extracting gas from the Vries gas field since 1976. Before the Groningen field became synonymous with gas extraction problems, as far as we know, this usually did not lead to resistance on this scale and from the local government. We suspect that the disruption and damage in Groningen made the local government and residents concerned about the extraction. It is possible that the NAM has too limited an overview of the influence of Groningen on the support for gas extraction from small fields elsewhere. There are several possible explanations for this, such as:

1.) There was/is a different team from NAM working on the small fields than with Groningen;

2.) NAM's working method means that it underestimates resistance, or; 

3.) That knowledge of the social impact of the gas extraction problem in Groningen was/is insufficiently present in the gas company or its work process.

Our estimation is that it concerns a combination of these three points. The impression that arises from the course of events is that NAM likes to organize gas extraction projects smoothly and efficiently (as can be seen from scheduling appointments with administrators at very short notice and being able to quickly put a well into production), but also that it small fields has not changed significantly as a result of Groningen. Although the chance of a physical impact of the mining project Vries-10 (based on calculations by TNO and the risk analysis by SodM) is considered to be very small, partly due to the simultaneity with the situation in Groningen, there is indeed social unrest about this mining project. minor effects. The fact that NAM and governments have long said that the tremors in the Groningen field would be negligible.

The social impact of Vries-10

The course of events surrounding the exploitation of the Vries-10 gas field on the north side of Assen clearly did not go smoothly. Due to the method used, the mining project has a social impact. There are several impact areas ( previous blog ) and one of them that is relevant in Vries is the impact of extraction on the social relations between the operator, the authorities and residents is large. The sequence of steps after; 1.) the administrative consultations and the promise that the opportunity will be given for correct and complete information to the municipal councils; 2.) the municipal councils that do not like the gas extraction and want to wait for the renewed production plan, and; 3.) the announcement from NAM that it will still start production from Vries-10; causes a breach of trust between the majority of the municipal council and the NAM. The dissatisfaction on the part of the municipality with NAM's working method is further increased by the gas company's communication policy with the residents of Assen. Ultimately, this leads to the motion of regret and a joint lawsuit about the renewed extraction plan.

The impact on residents is also significant. NAM's communication with residents of the Marsdijk district left a lot to be desired. NAM has not taken into account that residents need time to arrange their attendance at information meetings. By always announcing meetings the day before, it is likely that far fewer residents will get information about the gas production project than would otherwise have been the case. This means that the residents are not aware of their need to be adequately informed about the situation. This also creates uncertainty and uncertainty among residents about gas extraction from Vries-10. In the light of the simultaneous situation in Groningen, the fear of conditions in Groningen is understandable. Good information provision by NAM at meetings well in advance could have saved residents from this. In response to the state of affairs surrounding the information meeting on January 17, 2017, residents even set up an action group to combat gas extraction from Vries-10.

The social impact on these two areas means that the gas extraction project at Vries-10 cannot be regarded as successful. The project is believed to have had a negative impact on the area and its residents, the conflict drags on after the production stop and NAM has a problem in its own backyard.

How further?

It is not yet too late to partially mitigate the impact of the mining project. The parties involved will all benefit if mutual relations are restored. This will prevent current and future NAM projects in the Northern Netherlands from leading to conflict again. For a sustainable reduction of the impact on social relationships in current and future mining projects, it would be sensible if NAM adapts its working method to the situation after Groningen. This means that the social impact of mining projects must also be included in the process. This can potentially prevent a lot of hassle in the future.

The impact on residents can also be reduced relatively easily. NAM could take a step in this direction by helping local authorities and residents on a number of points. The residents of Marsdijk would like to receive guarantees that any damage caused by gas extraction in their neighborhood will be compensated. At the time of writing, there does not appear to be any large-scale physical damage in the area, but TNO and SodM considered the likelihood of this occurring in the future to be very small. But trust in the authority of these bodies is insufficient to prevent opposition to the extraction. And it is also paradoxical that the operator, in a situation where the adverse effects for residents are very small, does not want to give more guarantees. A promise from NAM that it will properly deal with any future damage could have a major positive effect for little foreseen costs. This step could greatly reduce the impact on residents and breathe new life into the relationship between the parties. The positive impact of this step would perhaps be greatest if taken voluntarily by NAM, rather than forced by the courts.

Wouter Adams, project researcher

1 Update upcoming drilling NAM Assen-Noord (2 November 2015) available via: https://www.ftm.nl/document/20687280?projectId=1 [Last consulted 27 January 2022].

2  Asser Courant (20 December 2016) 'Little interest in the NAM information truck in Marsdijk.' Available via: https://assercourant.nl/artikel/474719/weinig-interesting-voor-informatietruck-nam-in-marsdijk.html [Last consulted January 27, 2022].

3  Information center NAM to Marsdijk (16 December 2016) available via: https://www.ftm.nl/document/20687508?projectId=1 [Last accessed 27 January 2022].

4 0.0 mm movement at NAM (21-12-2016) available at: https://www.ftm.nl/document/20687468?projectId=1 [Last consulted January 27, 2022].

5 RTV Drenthe (18 January 2017) 'NAM meeting on gas extraction is amateurism at its best.' Available via: https://www.rtvdrenthe.nl/nieuws/117583/NAM-meeting-over-gaswinning-is-amateurisme-ten-top [Last consulted January 27, 2022].

6  RTV Drenthe (4 February 2017) 'Two thousand signatures against gas extraction Marsdijk.' Available via: https://www.rtvdrenthe.nl/nieuws/118227/Two thousand-handtekens-tegen-gaswinning-Marsdijk

7 State Supervision of Mines (3 May 2018) 'Decision on objection to the enforcement request Vries 10.' Available via:  https://www.sodm.nl/documents/letters/2018/04/09/besluit-op-bezwaar-handhavings Request-vries-10 [Last consulted January 27, 2022].

8  State Supervision of Mines (10 February 2021) 'Rejection of enforcement request for gas production from well Vries-10 (Assen).' Available via: https://www.sodm.nl/documents/letters/2021/02/10/index [Last accessed January 27, 2022].