Image (adapted): Scott Schwartz, licence


Start Start

1947: foundation of the “Dutch Oil Company”

In 1947 the NAM (“Dutch Oil Company”, Shell/Exxon) is founded, after the discovery of an oil field close to Schoonebeek (province of Drenthe).

Oil is being pumped out of the ground using pump jacks.

The Fifties

The Netherlands need more energy. The search goes on.

Pulsations induced by underground explosions indicate the presence of gas in the ground.

At the time, the NAM probably doesn't realise the symbolic nature of the footage of an induced quake nearby an historical building: an old windmill.

NAM = Shell + ExxonMobil


And then, finally ago, the NAM discovers gas in Slochteren, under the land of Mr Boon, a farmer. Lots. Of. Gas.

Newspapers all over the world talk about a “gift from God”.

The mood is elated.

Everyone is rich, gas for everyone!

Through the years, more and more gas is found. The field seems to be an infinite source.

A fuddle of biblical proportions takes hold of the northerners. Salvation is in sight!


“The Lord has answered our prayers and pointed us to the natural gas under our feet. But first we need to build a harbour with jetties.”

Quote from: de Graanrepubliek by Frank Westerman

God’s gift should be consumed as fast as possible, and Groningen needs derricks, lots of them.


A distribution system is needed, and so, in 1963 the Gasunie is founded. Owners: the Dutch government (50%), Shell (25%) and Esso (now ExxonMobil) 25%.


“Together, the government, Staatsmijnen, Shell and Esso will exploit this reservoir for the advancement of Dutch energy supply”

A lot is happening: Together with the Dutch government, Shell and Exxon set up an impenetrable structure. It has names like "gas building", "Maatschap Groningen" and "EBN". Nobody really understands how it works, and that's exactly why it is so obscure. Now, in 2016, people have great doubts about this structure, and are asking louder and louder for a parliamentary inquiry.

Gasunie implements an elaborate transportation system, enabling almost everyone in the Netherlands to use natural gas.

In one big operation almost every household is technically prepared for the transition to gas.

Were the people living on top of the gas field connected to the gas network first?

Almost Everyone?

Men & Machines circle above the land of law-abiding farmers who have no idea what is going on. Their land is being destroyed. The gas beneath is silently removed.

Thanks to a very handy Napoleonic law dating back to 1810, the government is entitled to the gas, not the land owners.

Even worse: while the rest of the Netherlands is linked to the gas distribution system, the land owners are not, because this wouldn't be “profitable”:

Everyone got natural gas, according to national television:

(TV doc. “Andere Tijden”, 11 sec.)

“There is this old nursery rhyme: In Holland stands a house, tjingela tjingela hopsasa. In that house lives a man, the man chooses a wife, she chooses a child... and in this modern day variation the family 'chooses' a pipeline bringing warmth behind the Welcome Home sign. In no time, the whole country was set up for the use of natural gas.”

But wait: this didn't apply to those living on top of the gas bubble:

(Web site, 22 sec.)

Lady living on top of the gas bubble:

“But we lived a little more remote, on Denemarken 14 (‘Denmark 14’), and they never asked us if we wanted gas. Because we were not profitable. It simply was too expensive. […] They had divided the country in 'profitable areas', 'unprofitable areas' and even 'highly unprofitable areas'. I guess we were 'highly unprofitable' - we didn't get that gas until 1974.”

Long version:

Transcript: We didn’t know what was going on. They just walked around and started drilling. But other than that, we really didn’t know. Until they found that gas and then they connected all Slochteren to the gas. That’s what Mrs Schuring says, they went door to door and asked whether we wanted gas. And then the connection… But we lived a little more remote, on Denemarken 14 (‘Denmark 14’), and they never asked us if we wanted gas. Because we weren’t profitable. And it was too costly (laughs). And so we had to wait until 1974 before we were connected to the gas. That was my first gas stove, in 1974. In Slochteren a lot of people were against it, even the municipal council. Connecting these people to the gas was too expensive. They had divided the country in 'profitable areas', 'unprofitable areas' and even 'highly unprofitable areas'. I guess we were 'highly unprofitable' - we didn't get that gas until 1974. […] My father had kept a diary since 1911. And now we’re looking for those diaries, but my father never talked about the gas or wrote about it. We don’t understand why. It wasn’t all that important I guess. And of course, nobody believed any of it. My mother once said, they may have had a bunder (=hectare) of land by that time, people are now saying that this gas will come up here. Well, and looking at that production location at Kolham, you understand that that doesn’t fit in one hectare [laughter]. But we didn’t understand, did we? We didn’t know how much gas there was. They still don’t know. My father never wrote about it. My mother says it was in the field behind their house. She says, there’s that pipe in Boons land. I hope the thing doesn’t come any closer [laughter] Right? […] …scared. The roaring sound. When you were in bed, the windows went like this. Not all the time, mind you. It was called venting, flaring it was called.

Whose gas is it?

As a side note: On November 5th 2015, people could call into local radio station RTV Noord and ask “National Coordinator Groningen” Hans Alders questions.

The 300 billion euro question, of course, is: “Whose gas is it anyways?” Both the radio show host and Mr Alders were quick to dismiss this with “Things are the way they are, because that’s the way things are.”

That's a silly answer to a question that's far from silly. To the contrary: it's quite justified.

Radio Show Host:
Let’s go to the next caller. Mr. P in Farmsum near Delfzijl, good afternoon.

Mr. P.:
Good afternoon, I have just the one question.

Radio Show Host:
Go ahead.

Mr. P.:
Let’s say for arguments sake that I bought a piece of land. Well, then to be honest, the gas underneath that land is mine. It doesn’t belong to NAM.

Radio Show Host:
Yes, but that discussion has been going on for years, and uhm… well.

Mr. P.:
No, no, I could put a sheet-pile wall around my land, and then whats-his-name, that guy Alders you’ve got there in the studio with you, could gab away all he wants, but it's my gas, not his.


Radio Show Host:
But that’s not the situation we’re discussing here. The gas obviously belongs to someone else.

Radio Show Host:
You’ve made your point though. I don’t think I can give you an answer, nor can Mr. Alders.

Mr. P.:
I haven’t heard from Mr. Alders yet, not a word.

Ah yes, but… hahaha, I do understand where you’re coming from. But that’s just not how it works in the Netherlands. What you’re saying…

Mr. P.:
Sure is. That’s exactly how it works.

No, no, it isn’t.

Mr. P.:
Because it's my gas.

Radio Show Host:
Just listen, Mr. P.

Mr. P.:
It isn’t his gas.

No, it isn’t my gas, and I would never say it is, if that’s what you’re worried about. It certainly isn’t my gas. But the heart of the matter is that in the Netherlands, gas and other underground resources don’t belong to the land owner. That’s just how Dutch law works. If you’d like to discuss that, you should address our government and parliament. That’s how it’s done in the Netherlands. In the United States, it’s quite a different story. American land owners also own the natural resources underneath their land. In the Netherlands, that’s not the case.

Radio Show Host:
We’ll go ahead and listen to the next caller, this point has now been clarified.

In summary: the gas is confiscated from the land owners, then pumped from the earth, and they don't even get access to the gas because it costs too much to hook them up.

How different it could have been. In other parts of the world they would have been millionaires.

Two personal stories.

1: Shit happens, literally

“[…] Actually, the story goes way back. In 1964 we bought a charming little farmhouse at… [village known to me]. One day, I saw strangers rummaging around on our land. It looked like they were investigating something. Before they left, one of them took a dump amidst the rows of potatoes. I sent our old dog, a German shepherd, after him. With his trousers around his ankles the guy scooted away. His chums laughed their heads off.
Afterwards, I heard that they'd been conducting gas research. A few years later, cracks began to appear in the walls of the farmhouse. We moved to [village known to me], and there too cracks spontaneously appeared in the walls. We were told we should go to the water level board.
Then we lived in [village know to me] for a while, but that didn't work out for us. Finally, we bought a house in [village known to me] We moved to [name of the village known to me], where I had a studio and a little shop. There, the same thing happened to us - it even turned into quite a dangerous situation.
After 31 years we moved here. Our youth they've already ruined, and now they're also ruining our old age. War. The Dutch East Indies. The flood of 1953 in Zeeland. But that's another story altogether. Cheers, [name known to me].”
An e-mail to me.

2: Just move over, will ya

“In those days, I also delivered to a large working-class family, living in a small working-class house on… farmer Boons field. This family had to move in the spring of 1959, because NAM erected a drilling rig for what later would be known as the first succesful drilling operation in the Slochteren gas field.” Source: A letter to me.

Willem Meiborg, stern look, stiff suit, paper in hand and glasses pushed just above the eyes

1963 – Willem “Concrete” Meiborg

Nobody notices that the earth starts to tremble almost immediately after exploitation begins.

However, there is one person who warns of possible calamities: Willem “Concrete” Meiborg.

He is ridiculed by the NAM (Shell / Exxon).

NAM drilling sites are abandoned places that are being watched from a distance via cameras. They generate very little employment.

At the control centre, monitors show footage from cameras covering the entire site of each well. What strikes most is the absence of any operators whatsoever. Whenever maintenance people need to enter the gated site, they too are followed by the cameras. The gate is opened in time, using remote access control.


Things don't always take the course NAM engineers have in mind. An exploratory drill at 't Haantje (Drenthe) goes horribly wrong. The earth starts rumbling, and seconds later a 45 meter drilling rig sinks into the earth. One might call this a lesson in humility.

1970 – 1980

The oil crisis strikes and nuclear energy is not as safe as everybody thought.

Instead of encouraging everyone to use as much gas as possible, people are now admonished to be careful and save energy.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is suffering from the ‘Dutch Disease’

[content to be added]

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