During their protest against drilling ops, Greenpeace activists were circling the Prospector 1 jack up rig about 20 kilometers northwest of the island of Borkum; Source: Greenpeace

Court hearing coming up this week: Go-ahead or more hiccups for North Sea gas project?

After hitting another snag due to a court-ordered temporary halt of operations, which came only days after all legal challenges seemed to be over, a gas project in the North Sea appears to be in limbo, as the outcome of the pending court hearing is uncertain, given the project’s chequered history with court proceedings.

During their protest against drilling ops, Greenpeace activists were circling the Prospector 1 jack up rig about 20 kilometers northwest of the island of Borkum; Source: Greenpeace

The Netherlands-headquartered exploration and production player ONE-Dyas discovered the N05-A gas field in August 2017 about 20 kilometers north of the islands of Borkum, Rottumerplaat, and Schiermonnikoog, in the Dutch North Sea.

Once final permits for the project were granted by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in June 2022, ONE-Dyas took a final investment decision (FID) to develop N05-A in September 2022, disclosing an investment of more than €500 million in the gas project envisioned to run on offshore wind. 

Following the green light for the N05-A gas development, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), Bürgerinitiative Saubere Luft Ostfriesland, Mobilisation for the Environment (MOB), the island community of Borkum and others filed a lawsuit against the decision to approve the project, citing climate and biodiversity destruction fears. Thanks to this appeal, the District Court of the Hague halted the project in April 2023 and annulled the permit in April the following year.

However, the project’s operator, together with partners Hansa Hydrocarbons and EBN, did not give up on the project, and their efforts paid off, when the Secretary of State, after some adjustments were made, decided to issue a new permit on May 29, 2024, justifying it by saying that the N05-A project was in the interest of the security of natural gas supply.

Related Article

In the aftermath of the permit approval, One-Dyas confirmed that all contracted companies were moving swiftly with the final works in the North Sea to ensure that the first natural gas would be available to households and businesses by the end of 2024. To this end, Borr Drilling’s Prospector 1 jack-up rig moved to the site to start drilling operations.

While the rig is slated to drill its first well in the coming weeks, One Dyas plans to set up a wind-powered production platform and extract gas from twelve wells on the Dutch and German continental shelf but the authorization for the wells on the German side is still pending.

This did not sit well with Greenpeace Netherlands and Deutsche Umwelthilfe, which filed a request on May 31 for an interim measure to suspend further activities, arguing that the drilling site was near several nature reserves.

Moreover, environmental organizations also filed another application with the highest Dutch court to stop the construction of the planned platform off the island of Borkum, which HSM Offshore Energy was tasked with building at its yard in Schiedam.

Activists board rig to stop drilling ops

Given the speed at which things were moving, 21 climate activists took matters into their own hands on June 4 to prevent Borr Drilling’s Prospector 1 rig from finishing its preparations to begin its drilling assignment for One-Dyas. These activists seek to stop the operator from doing any construction work in the North Sea until the court decides on their appeal about the State Secretary’s decision to allow the project to move forward.

Mira Jaeger, Energy Expert from Greenpeace Germany, commented: “Not only would this gas extraction project fuel the climate crisis, it could also destroy precious ecosystems. With this project, the Dutch and German ministries are risking a huge amount of destruction for very little gas. There’s still time to stop it: our energy security doesn’t depend on it, but the climate impact and the destruction of this unique rocky reef would be irreversible.”

As part of their efforts to stop the project, five Greenpeace activists from Germany and the Netherlands occupied Borr Drilling’s rig, displaying messages such as ‘No new gas’ and ‘Gas destroys,’  while calling on the European Union (EU) and its member states to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure projects across Europe.

“We cannot afford any new fossil fuel extraction projects. Not in the North Sea or anywhere else. If national governments won’t stop the endless greed of fossil fuel companies, it’s time for the EU to take action and ban new fossil fuel infrastructure projects across Europe. It is a matter of safety and a matter of justice for present and future generations,” Jaeger added.

Dutch court temporarily suspends rig’s activities

While Greenpeace’s eight-hour rig occupation was ongoing, the Dutch Council of State ordered ONE-Dyas to stop its planned rig activities in the North Sea temporarily. This decision states that the Dutch firm has to halt the installation of the drilling platform at least until a hearing on this has been held on June 12.

As a result, the 21 activists ended their protest and left the Prospector 1 rig in high spirits, interpreting the court’s ruling as a climate victory for the time being. While the preliminary injunction has temporarily suspended the permit ONE-Dyas secured only days before, it is difficult to predict what will happen once a full hearing is held this week.

The N05-A project’s history with court proceedings adds to the doze of uncertainty currently surrounding the outcome of the pending hearing, which may delay the gas project’s development further. Should the court allow the activities at the project to resume and reach the production stage, the N05-A platform will run entirely on renewable energy from the nearby 113.4 MW Riffgat offshore wind farm.

Is the end of the North Sea gas project’s legal troubles in sight or will court proceedings beget more hurdles? This week’s court hearing may give a good indication of what may lie in wait in the future. Regardless of the hearing’s outcome, Greenpeace and other climate activists are determined to increase the pressure on the EU to put its member states on a path away from fossil fuels, by banning new fossil fuel projects and investing in an energy system based on renewables and energy sufficiency.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost two dollars are invested in clean energy for every dollar going to fossil fuels today, with global spending on clean energy technologies and infrastructure on track to hit $2 trillion in 2024.

View on Twitter.