CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Dutch court suspends major gas storage project

Mon Aug 8, 2011 3:27pm GMT
 

(Corrects capacity figure to 4.1 billion cubic metres in third paragraph)

* Country's top court suspends plans for gas storage project

* Preliminary ruling cites environmental, local objections

* Dutch govt approved Europe's largest gas storage in May

* Ruling could affect Dutch gas hub ambitions (Updates with TAQA reaction, background)

AMSTERDAM, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The top court in the Netherlands on Monday ordered the suspension of the Bergermeer gas storage project, the largest in Europe, citing objections by environmentalists and local residents who fear earth tremors.

The storage project, along with the soon-to-be-completed liquefied natural gas terminal in Rotterdam, is an important part of the Netherlands' plan to become a European hub for natural gas once it stops exporting gas in 2025.

The Bergermeer gas storage project was intended to store up to 4.1 billion cubic metres of gas when completed, and would be operated by Abu Dhabi National Energy Company , the majority owner.

But the project, which the Dutch government had already approved, faced strong opposition locally because of fears that injecting gas into the depleted gas field -- near Alkmaar in the country's northwest -- could cause strong earth tremors.

The Council of State, the top court, ruled that the project must be temporarily suspended, pending a final ruling, to avoid "irreversible consequences".

"There is much resistance against this plan by the government," the council said in its preliminary ruling.

Local residents and environmentalists fear that the change of pressure caused by injecting gas into the former gas extraction field could cause tremors.

TAQA has asked three independent bodies, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to carry out additional tests.

The three institutes have concluded that the risk of such a tremor is small and that tremors could also occur in the Bergermeer area even without gas storage going ahead, as a result of gas extraction from the site in the past.

Allan Virtanen, TAQA's spokesman in the Netherlands, said the company was disappointed with the court's decision, adding "We are currently evaluating the effects of the outcome."

He said it was too soon to say if and by how much the project would be delayed due to the court's decision.

TAQA, 75 percent owned by the Abu Dhabi government, has a 60 percent stake in the 800 million euro ($1,135,000) Bergermeer project, while Energie Beheer Nederland BV , a Dutch state-owned gas company, owns the remainder. (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Sara Webb and Anthony Barker) ($1 = 0.705 Euros)

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