Dutch Gas Production from the Small Fields: Why extending their life contributes to the energy transition

Across Europe, the tension between the pursuit of national emission reduction targets and global climate targets and between the competing objectives of energy and climate policy is becoming more evident. This is particularly apparent in the gas-producing countries of NW Europe, notably the Netherlands, which combines domestic gas production, state participation in the upstream, a high dependence on gas in end-use and very ambitious energy transition targets.

The geopolitical, financial and supply security consequences of the rapid rise in Dutch gas imports since the decision to phase out Groningen gas production has attracted much attention, but the environmental consequences have been harder to identify and much less discussed.  This paper looks at the mature ‘small fields’, examines the resource base, future production and GHG emissions and attempts to quantify the global emissions benefit of extending the life of these fields and of maximising their production over the next 20-25 years.  The carbon footprint or GHG emissions associated with the supply from the small fields is exceptionally low by international standards and much lower than all sources of imported gas except Norway.  Since the Netherlands will still be consuming natural gas well into the 2040s under the most ambitious projections of the energy transition, it makes environmental sense to maximise the supply from domestic resources.

The ‘small fields’ have suffered a period of accelerated decline in recent years due to an unfavourable investment climate, policy neglect and low gas prices. In 2020, production fell to 13.3 bcm, two thirds from offshore fields in the North Sea and imports rose to a new record level.  The re-use of part of the existing upstream infrastructure is central to current plans for CCS and offshore generation of renewable electricity and hydrogen. Extending production from existing gas resources through responsive government policy and avoiding premature decommissioning of this infrastructure should remain priorities of public policy well into the 2030s, or until all technology and economic options for decarbonisation have been thoroughly explored.

By: Marshall Hall