The importance of public acceptance to boost Europe’s natural gas projects

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Thijs Starink, Director Asset Management, EBN
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As part of our series of interviews on Europe's gas industry challenges and developments, we had the pleasure of interviewing Thijs Starink, Director Asset Management at EBN.

Gastech News: What are the key issues affecting your business within the gas industry today?

Thijs Starink: First and foremost, the Groningen earthquakes, which are causing a lot of turmoil in the Netherlands, and have over the last 3 years eroded public acceptance for the gas exploration and production industry.

Then, the lower oil and gas prices are another important issue. Gas prices were less affected than oil prices, but they’ve also gone down considerably in the last 6 months, and that’s obviously affecting budgets for all the international oil companies that are active in The Netherlands.

Additionally, in a declining or ageing infrastructure, where there’s less gas flowing through the system, certain branches of the offshore gathering pipelines may become uneconomic.

Gastech News: Do you think that the European gas industry is responding well to these issues?

Thijs Starink: I think we’re particularly struggling with public acceptance and how to have an effective dialogue and debate. There’s certainly a very negative sentiment towards the gas industry at the moment. We’re used to arguing based on facts and figures, but the debate now is emotional and we’re not really well fitted out to have an effective dialogue in that way with society and with local communities. It’s not an easy dialogue but we are committed to enhancing our communication efforts and speak with one voice.

Gastech News: Looking at the Netherlands, less gas production from the Groningen gas fields might be seen this year. What are your views on the decline of gas production in the EU?

Thijs Starink: Although there are companies that are waiting to bring their LNG into Europe, I think that both environmentally and financially speaking, we should produce our own gas before importing it from outside. Looking further beyond, there could be a problem if we lose part of our production capability as we could become dependent.

In addition, Europe is struggling to form a collective energy policy, and this is a concern as we don’t want to be dependent on Russia. It would be good if the EU could really develop a joint and strong energy policy. Domestic production should be supported in the transition towards an energy mix with much more renewables.

Gastech News: What projects and activities do you consider fundamental for the gas industry in The Netherlands?

Thijs Starink: Over the last few years, we haven’t had a clear energy policy. It wasn’t clearly defined how our energy mix should be and how we reduce CO2 emissions. However, at the end of 2015, the Ministry issued an energy report which is a good starting point to understand the country’s energy policy as well as the role of gas in the next 10-20 years.

Gastech News: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s EAGC event and what is your final message to our readers?

Thijs Starink: I’m looking forward to the European Autumn Gas Conference in The Hague for more of a debate, more critical questions and to get an international perspective on Europe’s gas and LNG market. We usually tend to look at our own problems, but sometimes when these are discussed at conferences you get some good insight from international visitors on how we could do better on issues such as public acceptance, the stakeholder’s debate and so on.

This year’s conference theme is “Beyond COP-21: Rethinking European Gas without the Global Energy Mix”. Find out more about the 2016 EAGC Conference in The Hague, 15-17 November 2016.

Join the Conversation: Do you agree with Thijs Starink? What projects are fundamental for the gas industry in the Netherlands? Leave a comment below.

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Image Courtesy of EBN.