The company Tulip Oil wants to drill for gas to the north of Terschelling. Residents, the municipality and the province are all opposed but the final decision will be taken by Minister Kamp. The presence of an oil platform does have some positive effects underwater, says Han Lindeboom, professor of Marine Ecology, but ultimately it is up to the gas companies to convince the public that the negative impact is minimal.
Can you go right ahead and drill in a protected Natura 2000 area like Terschelling?
‘In an area like that, this activity is very strictly regulated. Companies must demonstrate that the negative effects are as minor as possible as well as how these effects will be compensated for. Think of sand suppletion should the island subside.’
What environmental consequences would that have?
‘It makes no difference whether the North Sea becomes a metre deeper because there are no longer any sand banks sticking up out of the water. Unlike in the Wadden Sea. The detriment done to the landscape is a valid point though; near Ameland and from Texel you can already see platforms. Naturally, the public is mainly concerned about earthquakes, and rightly so. When you drill into a large field, these can certainly occur. As it happens, this field is probably small and things won’t be that bad.
In earlier research you saw the positive effects of wind turbines at sea. Shell-fish attach themselves to them and they offer shelter to fish. Do drilling platforms also have such effects?
‘Yes, biodiversity and biomass are increased. Moreover, fishing is prohibited near a platform. Birds, on the other hand, are adversely affected; not that they belong there because there is no natural solid ground. It’s a fact of life that people influence the world, so we might as well combine economic usefulness with some ecological benefit under water.’