4.4Supply Adequacy in North-West Europe: The Challenge of L-Gas Areas

Historically, the main supplier of L-gas in North West Europe was the Groningen gas field in the Netherlands. Since 2012 Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands have been working together to phase-out L-gas. Initially, the phase-out was ­motivated by the natural decline of the capacity of the Groningen field. However, in March 2018 the government of the Netherlands, in order to ­guarantee safety in the Groningen area, announced its decision to terminate natural gas production from the Groningen field as soon as possible, and no later than 2030. After an earthquake which ­occurred on 22 May 2019 near Westerwijtwerd, the schedule for production phase-out was accelerated to gas year 2022/23 for average weather ­conditions. From the summer of 2022 onward, gas from the Groningen gas field will only be used as back-up for the nitrogen blending facilities, L-gas storages and potential disruptions in H-gas supply.

The decline of L-gas production is causing a ­pressing investment requirement in North-West ­Europe, the only region where L-gas is produced and consumed. The announced phase-out of the Groningen field production and the decline of the German L-gas production will require considerable infrastructure investments to allow L-to-H market conversion in large parts of Belgium, France and Germany. The foreseen conversion process ­includes the development of specific gas ­transmission infrastructure (or adaptation if ­existing) to ­integrate the L-gas and the H-gas ­networks and to bring H-gas supplies to the L-gas areas to be ­converted. A ­detailed overview is ­presented ­recently in the North West Gas Regional Investment Plan (NW-GRIP)1.

The key conclusions in the NW-GRIP are:
  • There will be sufficient L-gas supply to cover security of supply (SoS) throughout the L-to-H market conversion program, according to the Task Force Monitoring L-Gas Market Conversion.
  • The measures to increase conversion capacity and reduce L-gas demand in the Netherlands are on track.
  • The L to H infrastructure conversion programs in France, Belgium, Germany are on track.
  • The Task Force Monitoring L-Gas Market ­Conversion provides a good forum for ­international cooperation and alignment ­between the four concerned countries.

The impact of COVID-19 in Europe on the L-gas ­supply and demand projections is assessed in the second edition of the L-gas Market Conversion Monitoring Taskforce report (September 2020), in which the participating countries conclude that ­until September 2020 the COVID-19 virus has not impacted the construction of the Nitrogen facility in the Netherlands, and does not delay the L-to-H market conversion programs of Belgium, France and Germany in the coming years (although some activities have been postponed by several weeks or months in 2020, with marginal impact on the ­overall programs).