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Dutch court to rule on Groningen gas policy appeals in 'mid-July'

London — The Dutch Council of State, the country's top administrative court, expects to rule "in mid-July" on 26 appeals heard this week against the government's production policy at the giant onshore Groningen gas field, a court spokesperson said Thursday.

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The court began hearing the appeals on Wednesday, with the proceedings set to conclude later Thursday.

A production cap has been in place for a number of years to limit the impact of earthquakes linked to gas production at Groningen, with the quota for the current gas year (October 2018-September 2019) set at 19.4 Bcm.

But a number of plaintiffs -- including a large number of individual citizens, the province of Groningen, 19 Groningen municipalities, two water boards, the Groninger Bodem Beweging (Groningen Soil Movement) and the Groningen gas council -- have called on the court to accelerate the end of Groningen production.

"The ruling is expected within three months, that is mid-July," the court spokesperson said.

EMERGENCY REQUESTS

The court in mid-January rejected two emergency requests calling for production at Groningen to be halted completely because of the risk of earthquakes.

Handing down its ruling, it said it acknowledged that residents of Groningen feared for their safety due to the earthquakes caused by the extraction of gas.

But it said that companies and private citizens in the Netherlands were dependent on Groningen gas and that halting -- or significantly cutting -- production could have serious consequences.

The Council of State has been heavily involved in Groningen output over the past few years.

A range of appeals were heard by the court in July 2017 against the existing quota system, including some requesting a stricter output cap, some demanding production at Groningen be halted altogether, and an appeal from operator NAM for more clarity on the government's policy.

The court ruled that the 2017/18 gas year's 21.6 Bcm/year Groningen gas production quota could remain in place only while a new policy was adopted.

That led to the economy ministry, headed by Eric Wiebes, pledging to an accelerated production decline at Groningen, with output set to dip to as low as 4 Bcm/year by 2022.

The proposed quota for the next gas year -- starting in October 2019 -- is 15.9 Bcm, significantly down on the field's recent production peak of 54 Bcm in 2013.

-- Stuart Elliott, Stuart.Elliott@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Leech, newsdesk@spglobal.com