Netherlands takes action over gas field earthquakes

The following article appeared in the HazardEx newsletter this week, and is of particular relevance to the UK current discussions over the safety of fracking in Northwestern UK. The HazardEx newsletter can be accessed via www.hazardexonthenet.net

The Groningen gas field was discovered in the 1960s, and is a conventional gas reservoir, it does not use fracking. As the gas is extracted, small earthquakes have occurred as the ground, the roof of the reservoir, settles, presumably as a result of the reduction in the gas pressure below. Tens of thousands of homes have had to be shored up because of damage caused by the earthquakes

The government of the Netherlands apologised on March 2 for ignoring risks posed by earthquakes caused by production of natural gas in the northern province of Groningen. The apology follows a February 18 report by the country’s independent Safety Board that found that the government, together with Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon, had put profits before safety in exploiting the Groningen gas field.

Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp said he was very sorry that the safety interests of Groningers had not received the attention they deserved. He said safety would now come first and that necessary measures would be taken to address the problem.

Last month Kamp ordered production at the Groningen field, Europe’s largest onshore gas field, to be cut by 16% for the first half of 2015, sending prices in northwest Europe surging. He is due to make another decision on production at the field on July 1.

Earthquakes were definitively linked to production at Groningen in 1993, but they became more frequent and intense after production was increased in 2008. Increased gas revenues provided important revenues for the state as the Dutch government pursued unpopular austerity policies.

After a 3.6 magnitude earthquake in 2012 — greater than any Shell and Exxon had forecast — regulators warned the government that citizens’ safety was at risk and called for production to be cut as quickly as possible. But the government did not order a reduction in production until last year, and then only a relatively small one.

The Groningen field accounts for two-thirds of Dutch gas production and the Netherlands supplies about 15% of Europe’s total natural gas, providing an important alternative to Russian gas.

In the wake of the Safety Board report, Dutch political parties across the spectrum are calling for Groningen never to return to former production levels, with left-leaning parties seeking further cuts in production.

Shell and Exxon have so far set aside 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in compensation after 30,000 buildings were damaged by recent earthquakes, although no serious physical injuries have been reported as a result of the quakes.

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MicroMotion Heavy Fuel Viscosity Meter

Emerson Process Management has introduced the Micro Motion Heavy Fuel Viscosity Meter (HFVM) ‘Viscomaster’, the next generation of the Micro Motion 7829 Viscomaster direct insertion viscosity and density meter. Making use of the same rugged and reliable tuning fork design as its predecessors, the HFVM incorporates a new robust low friction Diamond-like Carbon (DLC) coating. This makes it ideal for tackling the most demanding of process applications such as marine heavy fuel oil (HFO) combustion control, marine gas oil (MGO) viscosity control and land-based fired heaters.

The head-mounted transmitter is hazardous area approved and has the flexibility to connect to control systems via a wide range of digital and analogue protocols. System integration and start up commissioning costs are significantly reduced due to the support from 4-20mA, HART, WirelessHART and RS485 Modbus communications. The HFVM accepts and processes external signals from other field instrumentation such as temperature and mass/volumetric flow devices, enabling the meter to calculate and output enhanced process measurements while minimising installation and cabling costs.

“We designed the HFVM Viscomaster to help solve problems that our customers face on a daily basis such as maximising engine power output irrespective of fuel quality variations, optimising HFO/MGO cut-over times and reducing fiscal exposure through improved NOx/SOx management,” said Andrew Sgro, Micro Motion density and viscosity product line manager.

The HFVM also incorporates a new diagnostic capability called Known Density Verification (KDV) that checks the meter for measurement alarm conditions, sensor integrity and the presence of coating, erosion or corrosion. This new technology expands the availability of diagnostic information in critical viscosity and density measurement applications which can result in significant maintenance costs and cycle time reductions.

Marine approvals for the meter include Lloyds, Germanische Lloyd, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and Bureau Veritas (BV).