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Within the Netherlands, Balancing Energy Security Against Climate Concerns


Two enormous vessels tethered to a pier within the Eemshaven harbor within the Netherlands form the centerpiece of this country’s riposte to Russia’s throttling energy supplies to Europe.

On a blustery fall day, the Gaslog Georgetown, at nearly 1,000 feet long, was pumping liquefied natural gas brought from the U.S. Gulf Coast right into a ship designed to receive the chilled fuel and send it into pipelines onshore.

These cargoes of L.N.G., which began arriving in mid-September, are bringing massive transfusions of natural gas not only to the Netherlands but in addition farther on to other energy-hungry European countries, including Germany and the Czech Republic.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the energy authorities within the Netherlands understood that Europe faced a dire threat — but in addition that their country, with its central location and extensive pipeline links, could help prevent the continent from shuddering within the cold this winter.

“We realized that the Netherlands is again very essential for Europe,” said Ulco Vermeulen, a board member and executive at Gasunie, the state-controlled energy infrastructure company. “We are able to load supplies and convey them to destinations in Europe.”

But in a rustic where environmental concerns are a high priority, the growing reliance on L.N.G. has created unease. Home to one in every of the world’s largest natural gas fields, the Netherlands is now dotted with clean energy initiatives, testament to the European Union’s goal to be a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050. A court in The Hague last yr ordered Shell, one in every of the country’s largest corporations before it moved to London, to hurry up its reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by curbing production and sales of oil and gas.

Dutch environmental groups are skeptical about letting energy corporations like Shell, which has contracted to buy a few of the L.N.G. coming into Eemshaven, use latest sources of natural gas, even for a number of years in an emergency. They are saying the investment within the infrastructure across the terminals, amounting to billions of euros, may result in a gentle stream of L.N.G. imports well after the energy crisis has passed.

“There may be a certain lock-in effect which may be in play,” said Kirsten Sleven, a campaigner for Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, which brought the case against Shell.

Countries across the globe are combating similar issues. There may be a danger that governments will “learn the fallacious lesson” from the crisis, “putting near-term energy security first and leaving interested by climate change for tomorrow,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Dutch energy executives believed they were facing an emergency because the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, began threatening to chop off gas supplies to Europe over its opposition to the invasion of Ukraine.

Compressing into months what might normally have been years of negotiations, regulatory approvals and construction, Mr. Vermeulen, port officials and other executives cobbled together the pipelines, piers and other infrastructure obligatory to import liquefied natural gas to protect against a cutoff from Russia.

The power has two floating L.N.G. terminals — leased vessels bristling with equipment for turning the chilled liquid delivered by oceangoing tankers back right into a vapor and sending it into the European grid.

Russia has now severely reduce pipeline gas flows to Europe, but Mr. Vermeulen says the Netherlands will probably have enough resources to get through the winter, when natural gas consumption normally soars. He worries, though, that pipeline bottlenecks may make it difficult to provide parts of Europe.

The Netherlands has also put in place other emergency measures, including allowing coal-fired power plants to ramp up.

European energy officials like Mr. Vermeulen insist that regressing on climate goals isn’t their aim. As an illustration, Mr. Vermeulen said that in negotiations for the floating facilities, he had demanded that the leases be limited to 5 years, at the same time as some parties wanted 10. He figures that by the top of those leases, loads of other gas-importing capability can be ready in Europe and hydrogen will start becoming available in business quantities.

Others argue that the energy crisis attributable to the war in Ukraine could wind up accelerating the shift to cleaner fuels, as natural gas prices have soared. Though benchmark European futures prices have fallen in recent days, they’re still about eight times the degrees of two years ago, before the crunch began.

Suddenly, clean energy technologies that seemed too costly look more competitive.

“I feel the price of natural gas can be much higher than prior to now,” said Peter Molengraaf, an adviser to the Dutch government on energy innovation. “I feel the relatively high price will make certain it is totally economic to maneuver to renewables.”

An enormous concern, though, is whether or not residents who’ve been slammed by recent sudden rises of their bills for energy, food and other essentials will give you the chance to afford electric cars or energy-saving heat pumps for his or her homes. For people earning low incomes, “there may be nothing by way of a positive transition there,” said Jacques Wallage, who was a Dutch cabinet minister and mayor of Groningen.

Within the Netherlands, the present energy crisis is coloured by a protracted and sophisticated history. In 1959, one in every of the world’s largest natural gas fields was discovered under a roughly 350-square-mile expanse of farmland and picturesque villages within the province of Groningen, which incorporates Eemshaven. The find spurred the development of intensive pipeline networks, and provided the Netherlands and neighboring countries with low-cost energy, cleaner than coal, for a long time.

Over the past decade, those advantages have been overshadowed by earthquakes attributable to the gas extraction that damaged homes and made life miserable for residents. “It modified your whole life, the earthquake thing,” said Jaap Pastoor, who along with his wife, Nienke, runs a dairy farm, where barns and houses suffered damage from the tremors.

After shrugging off complaints for years, the Dutch government, which reaped huge revenues from the gas, in 2019 ordered Shell and Exxon Mobil, which run the Groningen field through a three way partnership often known as NAM, to wind down gas production to a bare minimum. Reserves price a whole bunch of billions of euros are to be left in the bottom.

Now, despite having a reserve of gas that would make a serious contribution to bolstering European energy supplies, the federal government is wary of reopening the throttle at Groningen for fear of a backlash, especially from residents.

“We now have a powerful opinion that they need to never reopen the gas field,” said Jeanette Ubels, who’s rebuilding her earthquake-damaged home within the village of Westeremden and is installing electric heating in order to not rely upon gas.

Some say keeping Groningen’s gas taps largely closed during an emergency makes little sense.

“The choice is just appalling,” said Wybren van Haga, a right-leaning member of the Dutch Parliament. “It’s technically flawed, it’s politically motivated, and it costs an awful lot of cash.”

But few observers think the federal government will allow Groningen to ramp up again except in an extreme situation. The federal government sees the gas field “as an actual, real lender of last resort,” Mr. Vermeulen said.

And in the realm around the enormous gas field, the main focus is on shifting to cleaner types of energy.

“Due to the geopolitical situation we have now now with Russia, I feel that everyone sees the urgency” is bigger now, said Melissa van Hoorn, the regional minister for climate and energy transition.

Solar energy and wind power are growing fast within the Netherlands, and now interest is shifting to hydrogen, a clean-burning fuel that corporations are betting can be utilized in large volumes to store energy and power heavy vehicles and heavy industry. Groningen’s network of gas pipelines could someday be used to deliver fuels like hydrogen.

Shell is constructing in Rotterdam what is predicted to be Europe’s largest electrolyzer, a tool that uses electric power to make hydrogen from water. It could produce “green” hydrogen, because the ability would come from an enormous wind farm off the coast.

The corporate, which retains a big presence within the Netherlands despite moving its headquarters last yr, is obtaining some real-world experience by supplying hydrogen to a fleet of 32 buses within the Groningen region.

“That is latest, so we’d like to learn how one can do that,” said Ruben van Grinsven, a Shell general manager for hydrogen.

Cas König, chief executive of Groningen Seaports, which runs the harbors at Eemshaven and nearby Delfzijl, was among the many officials who pushed hard to develop the liquefied natural gas terminal so quickly. Still, he said the confrontation with Russia over energy could speed up the pivot toward clean energy.

He’s expanding plans for importing hydrogen, which can be needed in greater quantities than a small country just like the Netherlands can produce domestically. The gas could possibly be utilized by the port’s cluster of electrical power and chemical plants, and fed to other parts of the Netherlands and neighbors like Belgium and Germany.

“As soon because the infrastructure is there,” he said, “the economy will follow.”

Claire Moses contributed reporting from London.

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