Former gas extraction supervisor calls ministerial relationship ‘simmering war’ | NOW

The talks between the Norwegian Ministry of Mines (SodM) and the Ministry of Economy were sometimes “ragged”. Former supervisor Harry van der Meijden describes the relationship as a “tough war”. He testified on Tuesday before the investigative committee investigating gas extraction in Groningen.

Van der Meijden didn’t seem to mind when he was appointed Inspector General of SodM in 2014. He had had a long career at Shell. Was he able to provide independent supervision and advice?

The former supervisor brushed off the criticism on Tuesday. He never “wanted to please his former employer”, says Van der Meijden. Of course, he also foresaw “fields of tension”, but “even a former Shell CEO can monitor well.”

Van der Meijden had ‘a lot of work to do’

His questioning shows that Van der Meijden had a strained relationship with the top officials in financial affairs. As a new supervisor, he was given the task of making his organization “future-proof”. Van der Meijden quickly concluded that there was “a lot of work to do”.

He found that his organization was not on par with the ministry’s political departments. SodM was seen as “quiet property”, explains Van der Meijden. He didn’t feel taken seriously either.

Lift session went ‘crackingly hard’

This independence was also not sufficiently secured. The Dutch Security Council (OVV) had concluded that a few months after he took office. Eg. SSM had no website or platform where it could publish its advice, and no information department of its own.

The supervisor wanted to change course but ran into a “force field”. The tension between him and top official Mark Dierikx increased, says Van der Meijden.

A build-up should keep things on track. Van der Meijden wanted to unfold his plans. It was “crazy” and he found the meeting “extremely uncomfortable”. An employee who was with us told Van der Meijden that he heard words from Dierikx after the match along the lines of “you don’t think I should take part in this”.

The Oil and Gas Industry Association was involved in the application

The hearing also shows again how close the ties were between the ministry and Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM). NAM extracts the Groningen gas from the ground and is a subsidiary of Shell and ExxonMobil.

For example, Van der Meijden says he was surprised by his job interview. This included not only top officials but also the head of the trade association for oil and gas companies.

“I think that a job interview for a supervisor where the sector is supervised is special. It’s not clean,” says Van der Meijden.

SSM in brief:

  • Independent supervisor of mineral and energy extraction in the Netherlands
  • Gives (un)solicited advice to the minister
  • The guide belongs to the Ministry of Economy and Climate (EZK)

‘NAM was furious’ over 2016 SSM advice

Van der Meijden mentions another example. One of SodM’s tasks was to assess NAM’s recovery plans and advise the minister on this. This happened every year and sometimes several times a year.

This was also the case in 2016. In that year, SSM advised to further reduce gas extraction. NAM was “furious” about it, according to Van der Meijden. How did he know that?

Van der Meijden always spoke to the minister a few days before his advice became public. Also that time. To his surprise, the then NAM director Gerald Schotman and the heads of Shell and ExxonMobil (Dick Benschop and Joost van Roost) also took part in the conversation.

He found it “unpleasant”. Not many words were exchanged and the atmosphere was “unpleasant”, says Van der Meijden. Afterwards he was bitten by Schotman: “You are only satisfied if the production is zero”.

Van der Meijden’s stories confirm once again that the SSM was unable to function properly because of the inter-connectedness of the ministry and the oil companies. Earlier, former supervisor Jan de Jong testified before the inquiry committee. He was the predecessor of Van der Meijden.

De Jong stated that he was “difficult” in the ministry. He was also accused of being “anti-NAM”.

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