In 1943 an oil field was discovered under the Dutch village of Schoonebeek. This was the start of oil production in the Netherlands. To the year 1996 some 250 million barrels of oil were pumped up. Extraction at this site then became too expensive. It proved ever more difficult to extract the thick sticky crude, in addition the salt content was very high. Closing Schoonebeek reduced national oil production significantly.
Today oil is still produced in the Netherlands, but now mainly at sea. Total annual production is about 2 million m3. And companies are still investing in new fields. It is also expected that during 2010 national oil production will again rise as the Schoonebeek field is returned to production. New more cost-effective extraction technology will again make it profitable.
Gas was first found in the Netherlands in 1948, the first field being discovered in the north east town of Coevorden. More important was the 1959 discovery of the enormous gas field in the Groningen village of Slochteren. The so-called Groningen field covered a surface of some 900 km2 and estimates suggested the original field contained 2700 billion m3 accessible gas – the then largest gas field in the world.
The discovery of this field was a huge stimulus for the exploration for others including in the North Sea. In 1961, for the first time in the history of Western Europe, drilling for North Sea gas started.
Originally it was expected that nuclear energy would reduce the demand for gas. With this in mind, as much gas as possible was sold in the early years to clients abroad. When the public attitude to nuclear energy hardened, the importance of domestic gas reserves grew significantly. The oil crisis of 1973 also underlined the importance of domestic gas reserves and made it very clear that it would not be wise to sell or consume this precious resource without constraint.
In 1974 the decision was taken to reduce gas production from the Groningen field, and the government began to encourage the discovery and exploitation of smaller fields. This was called the ‘small field policy’. Since this time dozens of small fields have been discovered.
To ensure sufficient supplies of gas in the future, the search for new fields on Dutch territory is being continued. Current expectations suggest that the Groningen field will continue to produce for some 50 years. Production from the smaller fields will decline, yet will still make a significant contribution to national needs for the coming 10 to 20 years.