Despite protests from environmentalists and islanders: This week, the Lower Saxony state parliament wants to lift the 2021 ban on natural gas production in Lower Saxony’s coastal waters in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the associated turnaround in German energy supply. It would be an important step towards building a planned drilling platform west of the island of Borkum. The Dutch energy company One-Dyas wants to produce around 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas there.
WORLD: Mr. Akkermann, how disappointed are you with the decision of the Lower Saxony state government to now, contrary to previous promises, want to produce natural gas from the North Sea?
Jürgen Akkermann: I am personally very disappointed, just like many fellow citizens here in Borkum. I don’t know anyone who would agree with this decision. On the contrary: we were very happy about the contrary decision of the state parliament last autumn, which classified gas production off our coast as too risky.
The reasons that led to this no to natural gas production in the immediate vicinity of the Wadden Sea, the concerns about the destruction of our nature still exist. Only the political priorities have changed.
WORLD: But you can already see the emergency in which the unilateral commitment to Russian natural gas and Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine have brought Germany, right?
Akkermann: Yes, we see them. At first we also thought about the fact that the political situation is what it is and that we therefore have to make a contribution to security of supply. In the meantime, however, it has turned out that gas production here off our coast can at best cover 0.7 to 1 percent of Germany’s gas requirements. And that the extraction of this relatively small amount can also start in 2025 at the earliest.
According to its own statements, the federal government wants to be independent of Russian gas supplies by then. The bottom line is that we think the decision of the state government is wrong. It is irresponsible given the planned timing, the reasonable yield of the gas field and the close proximity to our island.
WORLD: What specific environmental damage do you fear?
Akkermann: On the one hand, the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site is under massive threat from the pollutants that are released through gas production. The application documents show that up to eight tons of benzene, two tons of mercury and around 25 tons of methanol are involved, which are said to be flushed into the sea every year through production alone. Add to that the concerns we have about potential earthquakes and subsidence that may accompany production.
We have rising sea levels anyway due to climate change. A lowering of the Borkum island base as a result of gas production would further increase this problem.
WORLD: There are people from Borkum who even fear for the island as a whole because of the drilling. How seriously do you take such warnings?
Akkermann: There is no danger that these subsidences could be so severe that the entire island would go under. But there is an example from the Dutch Wadden Sea island of Ameland, off which natural gas is already being produced. There the land has sunk so much – by around 30 centimeters – that many salt marshes are wet. They are no longer used as a habitat for certain animal species.
We also fear that the subsidence could damage the freshwater reservoir below Borkum. This would jeopardize the island’s previously self-sufficient drinking water supply – with all the negative consequences.
WORLD: The state government of Lower Saxony has assured you of the highest safety standards – why isn’t that enough for you?
Akkermann: As already mentioned, high safety standards also mean more pollutants in the sea. As a world natural heritage site, as a biosphere reserve, as a Wadden Sea National Park, we are already wondering how many such titles are actually needed for politicians to finally take the protection of our nature, our habitat and people seriously.
WORLD: You have joined forces with seven other German and Dutch North Sea islands to protest against the construction of the oil rig. Can this still help?
Akkermann: We sent our protest letter directly to the Dutch government, from whose territory the drilling is supposed to be carried out. We don’t know yet if that will help. A final decision has not yet been made.
WORLD: Will you sue against the planned drilling?
Akkermann: Before a lawsuit can be filed, a decision must first be made against which one can sue. It doesn’t exist yet. In Germany, too, the planning approval process is only just beginning. There is no question that we are keeping our right to sue.
WORLD: In your opinion, how should politics and the energy industry replace the missing amounts of natural gas?
Akkermann: The potential for saving energy is far from exhausted. Once again: It’s about 0.7 to one percent of the gas requirement here. This can easily be saved by savings, for example through thermal insulation. And, of course, renewable energies must be expanded further. We could perhaps endure more wind turbines here, but certainly not gas drilling in the North Sea.
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