Monday 7 March 2011

The Netherlands is an oil producing nation (or "only an energy poor country would build cycle paths")

A few days ago we went on a family outing to one of the places where Vincent van Gogh lived in Drenthe. It was really a very nice place to visit, and will be an option for our cycling holiday routes this year. While in the area I also took a detour to look at something altogether more industrial.

Many people don't realise that the Netherlands is an oil producing nation. From the 1940s until 1996, oil was produced in this area of the Netherlands. Many pumpjacks still stand as a memory of this time, but the only one I've seen running is that in the video (it's for tourists and doesn't still produce oil). I suspect that Google's Street View doesn't include images of cyclists riding on cycle paths past oil pumps in many other places.

It's another of those myths and excuses - that only a country with no natural resources, without oil and without a car industry would support cycling. However, here's a nation which started supporting cycling right at the time when its oil production was highest.

While the pumpjacks (jaknikkers in Dutch) no longer operate, oil is now being produced in this country again. There's a new technique, involving pumping steam underground which comes back up with oil and gas. The gas is burnt in a power station which contributes to the local electricity supply as well as generating more steam.

Oil is flowing out of the ground in the Netherlands right
now through these pipes.
You may have guessed already that oil isn't really "my thing". I'd like to see less of it being burnt. However, I find the technology pretty impressive. These pipes are amongst those through which the steam and oil flows at present.

Assen is where the headquarters of NAM are based. That's the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij - Dutch Oil Company. It's not a particularly famous company in itself, but it's a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell (itself a Dutch company, of course and one of the largest employers in the Netherlands) and ExxonMobil - two companies which are known around the world.

And it's not only oil. Some readers may have heard of the Groningen Gas Field. The largest deposit of natural gas in Europe is right beneath our feet here, and pumping stations for gas are distributed around the local landscape, pumping from both this large field and several smaller ones. These stations are small and only really noticed if you look for them. One of them is about half a kilometre from our home. I cycle past it quite regularly, as do thousands of other people:

Two more videos about local oil production:

Another pump, this time outside the NAM building in Assen. NAM is one of the largest employers in this city:

Related blog posts have shown how the cost of running a car in different countries is not related strongly to the cycling rate, nor indeed to how easy it is to afford to buy a car. Contrary to many opinions expressed in other countries, The Netherlands really has not pursued anti-car policies.

I mentioned a car industry back a bit in this post. They don't make cars any more, but surely most people have heard of DAF trucks. In the last week, proposals to increase the speed at which you can drive, and thus burn more fuel, have been raised in both the Netherlands and the UK have this week. Jaknikkers still operate just across the border in Germany.


Paul Martin said...

Thank you for the interesting post, David. I've been following the fossil fuel industry much more closely in the past decade and am a frequent reader of site (and many others).

One thing that is clear to me is that we really need to minimise the wasteful use of fossil fuels - ie. burning them for personal transport. The worst thing we can do with fossilised hydrocarbons is burn them! Our world is made from them, directly or indirectly, including bike paths, food, medicine...!

No matter how hard we try, we can't build a wind turbine (or much else) from the energy captured by one! Oddly, few people appreciate this concept.

I worry though that we will continue Business As Usual™ until it is all too late... (says me who is about to travel to the NL to ride a bicycle around for two weeks...)



CantaEnAyunas said...

Does The Netherlands extract oil form the North Sea such as UK or Norway?

Lovely Bicycle! said...

What interesting info about the NL, thanks for posting this And excellent point about wealth vs infrastructure.

ibikelondon said...

Aren't blogs great? I came for a peak in to cycling life in the Netherlands and left with knowledge about oil production instead!

I worry that 'cycling will have it's day when oil runs out' is used as a serious back up plan by cycle campaigners in the UK. But the ability for people to accommodate ever-rising fuel prices into their personal budgets, rather than ride a bike. tells me everything I need to know about the conditions for cyclists people currently face here in the UK. When people would rather go on paying £1.30p for a litre of unleaded rather than ride a bike for their small journeys there is something very very wrong with our roads...

David Hembrow said...

I agree about the "cycling will have its day when oil runs out" idea. There's a long way to go before this really affects people. Apart from merely spending more money, people who see no choice but to drive can get more economical cars, drive shorter distances, combine journeys, lobby for lower tax on petrol, and many other things which don't require actually changing mode of transport. All this time, the motor car remains dominant.

For real change in what seems like reasonable behaviour you need infrastructure change.

Frits B said...

@CantaEnAyunas: yes, that is conglomerates of oil companies do so.
@David: I remember that these jaknikkers (ja = yes, knikken = to nod) weren't even guarded when in full production mode. When living in Emmen I once took a wrong turn in Schoonebeek and ended up on a slab of asphalt with a working jaknikker. No fences, no guards, just the pump doing its job. I doubt that this would be deemed safe nowadays.

Peter Smith said...

sounds a bit like fracking...

Slow Factory said...

The injection technique is definitely fracking. +

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog, but I am disappointed with this post. First your argument is a bit disingenuous. While the Netherlands has some minor oil production, the Netherlands is far from an oil rich nation. In 1980, the Netherlands was producing about 25 thousand barrels a day, but using 792 thousand barrels a day or producing about 3% of its consumption.

Now compare that to the UK where in 1980 the UK was producing 1,622 thousand barrels a day while using 1,725 thousand barrels a day or it was producing just a little more than 94% of its daily production.

Its a lot easier to create a political consensus to come up with alternatives to oil use when your country is so much more incredibly dependent on oil imports to sustain its consumption. This one of the big reasons that the Netherlands was able to create and then sustain a consensus to build bicycle paths even as oil prices started falling in the 1980's. I am sure that there are other factors as well, such historical legacy of older existing bike infrastructure and environmental concerns. But I think you are overstating your argument when you minimize oil consumption vs oil production. Countries that both produce and use a lot of oil are lot more insulated from the adverse effects of oil shocks
than countries that produce very little oil but still manage to use quite a bit of it.

Son of Shaft said...

Index Mundi doesn't give exact definitions or how the numbers are measured. I can't find it in their sources either. But a fair amount of consumption would be used by Dutch refineries servicing other parts of europe. I read that Italy and France had retooled their refineries in the last 2 decades so petrol export from R'dam to there is very low now but other parts of europe are still exported to.

Anonymous said...

2006 - Netherland oil production, 26 thousand barrels

UK 2006 - 1,490 thousand barrels of oil.
Netherlands produce enough oil to keep your bike chains lubricated :)

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: As 2006 comes between 1996 when the pumps stopped operating and 2011 when production started again. It's hardly surprising that this year should have a particularly low figure.

All knockers: What about the gas ? There's a lot of it.

Anonymous said...

Gas ?????????
Doesn’t fit well in vehicle tanks even when compressed.

Netherlands consumed 922,800 barrels in 2009, it costs your country a small fortune in imports. Stick to using Rotterdam as a port of entry for the rest of Europe and exporting flowers. You do not produce much as a country and the importation of vehicles and other similar things is (and always has been) a thorn in your side.

Gas reserves are already half depleted by the way.

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: Arguing with anonymous people is a bit pointless, but I'll make an exception after your silly comment about not producing much.

The Netherlands is a major exporter, fourth in the world per capita. Also, The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, after the US and followed by France (some source put France ahead of the Netherlands). Not a bad record for such a small country.

And gas in cars ? Yes, that's done. It's available at most "petrol stations" here. Indeed, once previously when I wrote about the price of fuel for cars I included a photo of prices at the pumps, which includes a price for LPG - Liquified Petroleum Gas. It's widely available, though used only by about 3% of motor vehicles.