Gas crisis in one EU country would swiftly spread, Dutch minister warns

LUXEMBOURG — The Netherlands fears that a winter gas crisis in one European country could swiftly spread across the Continent. 

EU energy ministers on Monday adopted new legislation that requires countries to fill their storage facilities to at least 80 percent by November 1 — and with Russia gradually turning off supply, the bloc is now racing to load up on gas. 

But while some countries with significant infrastructure or resources, like the Netherlands, might find it easier to prepare, they won’t escape the fallout, warned Dutch Climate Minister Rob Jetten. 

“It’s great if individual member states are able to fill their gas storages before November 1, but if other countries are not able to reach 80 percent — and especially big countries like Germany — then you have to be aware that this will be a domino effect for the whole of Europe,” he told POLITICO on the sidelines of the Energy Council in Luxembourg. 

He added that the Netherlands would show “solidarity to our neighboring countries” in the event of a full Russian gas shutoff. 

But The Hague is only considering boosting output from the Groningen gas megafield as a last resort; drilling has caused hundreds of damaging earthquakes in surrounding towns. 

“Only in the situation with all countries in the northwestern Europe in phase three [of their gas emergency plans], and having taken all the other measures you can take to prevent gas shortages, then we can consider production,” Jetten said. 

The Netherlands last week declared an early warning stage, and Germany has moved to the second phase of its three-step emergency plan. 

Instead of increasing supply from Groningen, the Netherlands has moved to burn more coal, like many European countries. Jetten will present plans for building two new nuclear power plants this week as part of an effort to secure future energy supplies.

The government also announced plans for new gas exploration — together with Germany — in the North Sea, hoping that production can start in 2024. 

Jetten claimed this didn’t break with the Netherlands’ climate efforts despite International Energy Agency findings that no new oil or gas fields should be opened if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to relatively safe levels. 

“We’re quitting the Groningen production field by 2023 or 2024. This is a huge drop in national gas production from the Netherlands,” he said. “Everything we’re doing in the North Sea with the smaller fields, it’s not comparable with what we did in Groningen. So net gas production in the Netherlands will go down at a very high pace.”

He added that as Europe scrambles to import more gas, Dutch gas was the cleaner option, with lower-than-average greenhouse gas intensity. 

As long as Europe needs gas, Jetten said, “I think it’s better to use the fossil fuels in the North Sea with less CO2 impact than new production fields in the United States or in the Middle East.” 

The Netherlands has sought to cast itself as a defender of climate ambition in negotiations among EU member countries on the European Commission’s Fit for 55 legislation package to slash emissions. 

The French presidency of the Council of the EU hopes these talks will culminate on Tuesday — or, as many diplomats expect, Wednesday — in an agreement on key elements, including proposals to reform the EU’s carbon market and establish a Social Climate Fund. 

Jetten said the new government, which took office in January, had softened the Dutch position on the fund, which aims to cushion the impact of carbon pricing measures on Europe’s poorest households. 

“We understand that some countries need a Social Climate Fund to kickstart the transition in the upcoming years,” he said, although the Dutch government is still pushing to reduce the fund’s size.

But that, he added, goes hand-in-hand with a new EU carbon price on heating and transport fuels — a highly controversial proposal. The European Parliament’s position of exempting households and applying the price only to businesses wouldn’t work for Council, he said. 

“I think the bottom line is what the European Parliament was trying to do won’t be enough,” Jetten said.