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Picture courtesy of GRTgaz

15 Supply 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. After an earthquake, which occurred on 8 January 2018 near Zeerijp, the government of the Netherlands announced in March 2018 its decision to terminate natural gas production from the Groningen field as soon as possible, in order to guarantee safety in the area of Groningen against the risk of earthquakes resulting from natural gas extraction. Due to various measures to reduce the dependency on the Groningen gas, the Groningen field has a back-up role in gas year 2022/2023. The production locations will produce at a minimum flow in order to ensure availability in case of extreme cold weather, unexpected (out of spec) qas qualities, transportation limitations, a shortage of H-gas or an outage in the L-gas system.

The decline of L-gas production is causing a pressing investment requirement. As the only region where L-gas is produced and consumed, the phasing out of the Groningen field and the decline of German L-gas production requires considerable infrastructure investments, which are already well underway, to allow L-to-H market conversion in large parts of Belgium, France and Germany. A detailed overview of the current status of the L-gas markets and the ongoing associated infrastructure adaptations that are required for a successful market conversion and integration into the H-gas system is presented in the latest North West Gas Regional Investment Plan (NW-GRIP)1.

Figure 15.1: European L-gas market in 2022. In Germany, the L-gas market is measured in number of appliances rather than number of customers. L-gas consumptions are relevant for GY 2021 – 2022 and are partly estimates. (Source: L-gas Market conversion review, NW GRIP TSOs)

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 ­ongoing.
  • 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.

After the publication of the latest NW GRIP in December 2022, the GTS (Dutch TSO) advice2 on security of supply for 2023/2024 concluded that the Groningen field should remain available to cover an extreme cold period during the winter, to ensure the gas storages reach the level required by the European regulation to ensure security of supply next gas year or unforeseen conditions. The need for back-up from the Groningen field arises due to current limitations on the supply of H-gas in North West Europe. The State Secretary for mining, who is responsible for setting the allowed production from the Groningen field, announced that six of the ­eleven production locations of the Groningen field will be closed, yet without taking irreversible steps until a final decision is being made on the allowed production before the start of the new gas year.

The impact of COVID-19 in Europe on the L-gas ­supply and demand projections is assessed in the latest winter briefing of the L-gas Market ­Conversion Monitoring Taskforce report3, in which the participating countries concluded that due to ­COVID-19 the conversion was impacted to some degree during the year 2020 however this impact did not lead to a significant delay of the conversion.

2 Advice regarding required Groningen capacities and volumes for security of supply for gas year 2023/2024

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