GRONINGEN GAS FIELD Due to growing safety concerns, production from the largest European gas field will cease in the coming years.

HISTORY Following the discovery of the Schoonebeek oil field in 1943 in the North East of the Netherlands, Shell and ExxonMobil decided to create a joint-venture to be active in the upstream sector in the region. The joint-venture called Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij BV – better known as NAM – was created in 1947 and is the largest producer of natural gas and major oil producer in the country today.

At that time, the company was mostly looking for oil as the Dutch domestic gas market was saturated by coal gas (a flammable gaseous fuel made from coal)–used for lighting and fuel. Therefore, there was limited enthusiasm when wells Slochteren 1 and Slochteren 2 successively found traces of gas 30km apart in 1959. When well Delfzijl 1 found gas about 20km in the north east of Slochteren the following year, NAM started to suspect that the three discoveries could be linked as all the wells had the same gas water contact depth. Further analysis including interpretation of seismic data indicated that all the gas discovered in Slochteren and Delfzijl were actually all part of the same gas field. The Groningen gas field was born.

PRODUCTION When it was discovered, the Groningen gas field was the largest in the world. The field covered an area of 900km2 which is similar to the size of New York City and Paris combined. The initial recoverable gas reserves are now assessed at 2,800bn cubic meters which is equivalent to the volume of 1.1bn Olympic swimming pools.

Production started in 1963 at a pace of 100 a year for the first decade. During that period, additional pipelines were built across the country and most of the houses and businesses had switched energy source from coal gas to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. The idea was to extract gas from the Groningen field in very large amounts as nuclear was soon to become the main energy source. However, this strategy was reviewed during the oil crisis in 1973. Following that period, most of the European governments were looking for new sources of energy to ensure the continuity and supply for the future generations. In order to extend the life of the Groningen field, annual production slowed down to 35 billion cubic meters per year on average and the Dutch government encouraged E&P companies to look for new gas fields.

The Groningen gas field has been a significant source of income for the Dutch government due to the large proportion of total gas revenues going back to the government as well as the high volume of exportations to other European countries such as Belgium, Germany and France. The Groningen gas field income reached its peak in 1982 at 19% of the total government income. This income has helped the government to improve the general standard of living of the population through better quality and access to education and wealth services.

8 | ADMISI - The Ghost In The Machine | November/December 2019

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