NOS News•Tuesday, 19:25
To Harry van der Meijden’s astonishment, the interest group of the oil and gas sector also sat at the table during his job interview for the position of Inspector General of the State Supervision of Mines (SodM). Van der Meijden stated this to the parliamentary committee of inquiry investigating gas extraction in Groningen.
Van der Meijden was heard today about his time as supervisor, from 2014 to 2017. In 2014, he succeeded Jan de Jong, who after the earthquake in Huizinge (2012) came up with the advice to limit gas extraction as quickly as possible.
Van der Meijden had already retired in 2014 after a long Shell career when he was called by a headhunter, someone who recruits high-ranking personnel. “I was 62 and thought it was honourable. With my background as a geologist and public administrator, I thought: that’s something for me. I found it somewhat surprising.”
During his job interview, he found “a delegation bigger than yours”, he told the committee. It turned out to be many people from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, but to his surprise, Secretary-General Jo Peters of the Nogepa, the Dutch Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Association, was also present.
“I thought that was special, because it was a job interview with the person who has to supervise precisely that sector”. He later told Peters that he did not find his presence at the meeting pure. The response to this was that Nogepa wanted to be sure that the person who would take the place of the supervisor was capable, according to Van der Meijden.
His Shell past played tricks on him as a supervisor, said van der Meijden. He was faced with a lot of mistrust. “I found the public perception difficult. All my predecessors came from Shell. That was the case for years. But was that bad? Not necessarily. But with the Groningen file it became more sensitive.”
He described the relationship between the SodM and the Ministry of Economic Affairs as “a slumbering war”. During one of his first conversations with top official Marc Dierikx, he was told: “Who the hell is het SodM“, following the alarming advice of the regulator.
That relationship went from bad to worse. On a heath day, where the independence of the inspectorate from the ministry was discussed, it was “crazy”, Van der Meijden described. “It was extremely unpleasant. Dierikx said: you don’t think I’m going to participate in this.”
Unexpected meeting top Shell and Exxon
In any case, Van der Meijden’s Shell past did not help him with his communication with the ministry and the gas extraction company NAM. As a remarkable example, he gave a meeting with the Minister of Economic Affairs about the proposed advice for the extraction plan for 2016.
He felt completely overwhelmed because he also found the director of NAM, Dick Benschop, then CEO of Shell Nederland, and Joost van Roost of Exxxon Benelux. “It was a very uncomfortable meeting. Afterwards I was told by the director of NAM that I would only be satisfied if the gas production went to 0”, recalls van der Meijden.
Natural gas revenues
Today, the Court of Audit published a new report on natural gas revenues from 1966 to 2021. The analysis was made at the request of the parliamentary committee of inquiry. The previous one dates from 2014. The latest version states that total natural gas revenues provided the Dutch government with EUR 454 billion, adjusted for inflation.
The Court of Audit further concludes that the Dutch State could have earned tens of billions more from natural gas if it, like Norway, had invested the proceeds in an investment fund. Had the Norwegian approach been chosen, instead of always using the money for government expenditure, there would have been 1.671 billion euros in the fund at the beginning of this year. No money should have been taken out of the fund in all those years.