Dutch Senate delays Groningen gas field shutdown

(Reuters) - The Dutch Senate has postponed a vote on a law to close permanently the Groningen gas field, angering the government that has said production would never resume because of the risk of earthquakes.

Normal gas production at Groningen in the north of the Netherlands ended last October after years of output cuts to limit seismic activity, linked to decades of extraction, that has damaged thousands of buildings.

The gas field, once one of Europe's main suppliers, was available for limited production during a cold snap in recent months, but the government has proposed a law that would close the field entirely by Oct. 1.

Although backed by the Lower House of parliament last month, several Senate factions on Tuesday said they needed more guarantees that the law would not jeopardize the security of the country's gas supply.

"This could delay the final decision by a year and a half, which makes me angry," Hans Vijlbrief, mining state secretary, told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Vijlbrief said he would resign unless the Senate changed its mind quickly.

"Security of supply would only possibly be at risk in case of two very cold winters in a row, a chance that is estimated at 1 in 80,000," Vijlbrief said. "I trust there is a misunderstanding and that we will see a final Senate decision soon."

Among those asking to postpone the vote were three of the four parties that are trying to form a government, including the nationalist PVV party that won the November 2023 election and the center right VVD of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Without the law, gas production could theoretically resume. Lower House lawmakers on Wednesday said they feared a considerable delay and ongoing uncertainty for people living in the region.

Rutte's caretaker government, in charge until a new government is formed, has repeatedly said it will not resume gas production at Groningen under any circumstance.

VVD lawmaker Silvio Erkens on Wednesday also said the decision to end gas production would not be reconsidered.

"But the Senate has the right to ask for more information," he added.

Shell and ExxonMobil, whose NAM joint venture operates the field, have asked an arbitration court to decide whether the Dutch state should compensate them for the ending of gas production at Groningen, which still contains huge reserves.

Gas profits have delivered an estimated 363 billion euros ($391.13 billion) to the Dutch treasury since production started in the 1960s, while Shell and Exxon's profit from Groningen was around 66 billion euros during that period.

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