At the provincial government house in Drenthe, people feel ‘robbed’ on Wednesday. “That news was communicated to me in the last hour and that is not the way we treat each other,” says Drents deputy Tjisse Stelpstra incensed.
Conversation with Drenthe
It is clear from the response of the commissioner that NAM had not yet discussed the new change of course with Drenthe, the province that will be responsible for waste water if NAM has its way.
Drents Deputy Stelpstra immediately had a conversation with the NAM. “First of all, they apologized for how it went, and that was the least. I said that it is absolutely not a race in Drenthe, one should not count on that.”
Just like in Overijssel, there is also resistance in Drenthe’s politics to the injection of waste water. Recently, a fierce debate was held in the provincial government in Assen. “There has been a very critical response to wastewater there, so we really need to continue the conversation about that.” Deputy Stelpstra said this in the news broadcast of RTV Drenthe.
NAM board member Simon Vroemen thought it was ‘a solid pre-announcement of big news’, the sudden urgency to leave the Twente region within three years. Remarkable and unexpected, because the oil extractor has invested a lot of money in the wastewater in Twente in recent years.
Barely a day later, the value of that advance notice seems to be drying up like snow in the sun. If NAM has yet to start the permit process in Drenthe, it may still take some time before everything is finalised.
‘Our departure from the Twente region has great urgency’
In Dinkelland and the surrounding municipalities there are several locations where the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij injects or has injected chemically polluted waste water. Millions of liters of water go into the ground every day, a residual product from the oil extraction in Schoonebeek.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate has issued a permit for the injection of 45 billion liters of waste water in the old gas field under Ootmarsum to Oldenzaal. A few billion liters have already been pumped in. According to calculations published by NAM itself, that waste water also ends up in the ‘oale ground’ of Twente every year with thousands of liters of toxic chemicals.
The resistance in Twente is increasing. Stop Afvalwater Twente has now started a professional media campaign. Comedian Herman Finkers is also committed to this, as an advocate for ‘young leu’ and his beloved homeland.
Is three years feasible?
NAM director Vroemen told the city council in Dinkelland on Tuesday evening: “Until the moment we can inject in Emmen, the water injection in Twente will continue as far as we are concerned.”
But it is highly questionable whether NAM will obtain all permits within the expected three years. This largely depends on the number of objections that will be submitted in Drenthe and on the legal necessity to prepare an environmental impact report (EIA).
The NAM hopes that this EIA will not be necessary, which will save a lot of time. The NAM also hopes for the leniency of Drenthe’s politics. Simon Vroemen is counting on the people in Schoonebeek to be in a good mood for the company and that there will be little opposition from the council or the citizenry. The petroleum company also counts on the cooperation of the municipality of Emmen.
But it can be deduced from the response of the Drentse deputy that it will certainly take some time before the province gives permission for the waste water injection in and around Schoonebeek. Is three years realistically feasible in politics? That remains to be seen.
Twente is not happy with that waste water and I think they are right about that
The expectations are not high, even if you look at the reactions of residents of Schoonebeek in a report by RTV Drenthe. It could well be that the NAM also has to deal with a setback in the area of objections to the neighboring province.
In 2006, NAM also needed almost 5 years in Twente to get all the permits in place. In the current climate, it is expected that three years could turn into six years. Or even more.
Waste water injection essential
However long it may take in Drenthe, the NAM will continue to inject in Twente in the coming years. Even though the permit application in Drenthe goes smoothly and quickly. NAM has several important financial reasons for this.
The investments made in recent years on the transport pipeline to Twente and on the installations at the injection locations in Northeast Twente must be recouped. The repair of the transport pipeline in Holtheme in 2015 alone cost tens of millions of euros.
Hundreds of thousands of euros
This certainly also applies to all new stainless steel pipes, couplings and flanges that have been installed in recent years at the locations in Rossum and the surrounding area.
Now that oil production has come to a halt again since the end of December because NAM is unable to control the levels of toluene (a toxic chemical – ed.) in the wastewater, society is missing out on tons of euros every day.
Simon Vroemen has only been a board member at NAM for a short time. Because of the loss of profits alone, Vroemen will hope that the company will soon meet the maximum standards and that the injection of waste water in Twente can be resumed. Because then money can be earned again with the oil extraction in Schoonebeek.
Director Vroemen says he fears that the oil field in Drenthe will cool down if it is not in production, which will make extracting oil more difficult and more expensive in the future. Another reason why NAM wants to start again in Twente as soon as possible.
Because the oil company has announced that the oil extraction will be for sale, actual production is very important for the economic value of the project. After all, a car without a running engine also yields little.
If the oil extraction and water injection are sold, shareholders Shell, Exxon and the Dutch state will miss out on billions of euros if no wastewater goes into the ground. It does not matter whether that is in Twente or in Drenthe. The oil extraction has to run and the waste water has to go. Without permits, without production, the entire oil extraction is not worth much anymore.
Secretary of State for Mining
That may be why former Minister of Economic Affairs Stef Blok never responded to the House of Representatives’ request to stop the waste water injection in Twente.
The new cabinet took office this week and for the first time in Dutch history there is a State Secretary for Mining. Even during the appointment of the cabinet, Hans Vijlbrief was saddled with extra expenses for claims in Groningen.
With a 40% stake in NAM’s profits, one wrong waste water decision could cost hundreds of millions of euros in revenue. State Secretary Vijlbrief will undoubtedly consider this decision carefully. He may even want to discuss this with the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, a majority in the House of Representatives will soon ask him again and urgently.
Drinking water and waste water together?
In the meantime, the drinking water companies have sounded the alarm about the stocks in the Netherlands. This is not new in Overijssel and in Twente in particular, the drinking water supply has been problematic for years. This is partly because our drinking water is obtained from groundwater. Vitens in Twente faces an additional risk in the already vulnerable drinking water extraction areas.
The NAM injects wastewater at a depth of one kilometer, on the border of drinking water extraction areas at a depth of no more than 50 metres. Even though the buoyancy in the globe at that depth is very strong, it won’t go that fast. Yet…
If the chemicals from the oil extraction of Schoonebeek do come into contact with the groundwater in Twente, then we should not only look for a solution for our drinking water. Even NAM board member Vroemen cannot deny that the consequences will be unimaginable. At that time, we have a few extra challenges ahead in Twente’s nature.
Secretary of State for Mining
In this new cabinet we have ministers responsible for climate, public health and food quality. How soon will they be on the doorstep of the Secretary of State for Mining?
Not only at the NAM in Assen, not only in Groningen, but also in Twente, the eyes are now on Hans Vijlbrief.
It’s not a run yet.