Gas extraction has ‘unacceptably large effect’ on World Heritage Drenthe

The Unesco World Heritage status of the Colonies of Benevolence in the north of Drenthe will come under pressure if gas is extracted in the area.

Canadian company Vermillion Energy wants to drill for gas at nine locations in the area and has applied for a permit. But in a new environmental impact assessment, five of those nine drilling sites are classified as “substantial risk,” reports RTV Drenthe† Gas extraction at those locations will have a major impact on the unique characteristics of the area. Think of drilling rigs that break through the rectangular structures of the landscape and disrupt the panoramic view.

The Colonies of Benevolence were set up from the first half of the nineteenth century to receive poor people, especially from the west of the Netherlands. Summer 2021 they were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. They now have protected status.

Gas extraction in the Wadden Sea

It doesn’t happen often, but UNESCO can also withdraw that status. This happened in 2007 in Oman, for example, because that country started drilling for oil in UNESCO area. Closer to home, UNESCO examines the World Heritage status of the Wadden Sea can be maintained because there are gas extraction plans there too.

There is a chance that the Colonies of Benevolence will follow, according to the environmental impact report that has now been published. A possible drilling site in Vledderveen, for example, is considered to be a “great risk” with an “impossibly large effect”. “It is estimated that these developments are in principle unjustifiable for UNESCO within the World Heritage Site, especially when other options are available,” the report states.

Troubles in Russia

Hidde Baars of Vermillion Energy is not surprised by the environmental impact assessment. “When you look for possible mining locations, you always come across restrictions. Because of certain restrictions in place, there is very little left,” he says.

Baars emphasizes that in practice the consequences of gas extraction for the landscape will not be too bad. “We do it carefully and talk to everyone. We will come out nicely. In the past we were often asked: why are we still extracting gas? In this time of troubles with Russia, we do not have to explain that importance.”

It is up to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy to ultimately agree to gas extraction in the Colonies of Benevolence. A decision by State Secretary Vijlbrief will follow after the summer.

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