Talks between the State Mine Control Authority and the Ministry of Economic Affairs were “rough” at times. Former supervisor Harry van der Meijden describes the relationship as a “difficult war”. He testified on Tuesday before the commission of inquiry investigating gas extraction in Groningen.
Van der Meijden didn’t mind when he was appointed inspector general of SodM in 2014. He had a long career at Shell. Was he able to provide independent supervision and advice?
The former supervisor dismissed the criticism on Tuesday. Van der Maiden says he “never wanted to please his former employer”. Of course he also predicted “areas of tension”, but “the former CEO of Shell can also oversee very well”.
“There was a lot of work to do”
His interrogation shows that van der Megden’s relationship with senior officials in economic affairs is strained. As the new supervisor, he has been tasked with making his organization “future-proof”. Van der Meijden quickly concluded that there was “a lot of work to be done”.
He found that his organization was not on par with the policy departments of the ministry. SodM was seen as a “quiet monarchy,” as Van der Meijden explains. Nor did he feel taken seriously.
Sneak gone ‘hard crackle’
This independence was not sufficiently secured. The Dutch Safety Council (OVV) concluded this a few months after taking office. For example, the SSM did not have a website or platform on which it could post its advice and no information section of its own.
The supervisor wanted to change course, but encountered a “force field”. Tensions have risen between him and chief civil servant Mark Derricks, says van der Maiden.
The buildup was supposed to keep things on track. Van der Meijden will reveal his plans. It was “crazy” and the meeting testified as “extremely unpleasant”. The employee who attended Van der Meijden then told that he had heard Dierikx say something along the lines of ‘You don’t think I would be involved in this’.
The Oil and Gas Industry Association participated in the application
The interrogation shows once again how close the relations between the Ministry and Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) are. NAM extracts 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 senior officials, but also the head of the industry association of oil and gas companies.
“I think a job interview for a supervisor in which the sector is supervised is private,” says Van der Meijden. “It’s not pure.”
The SSM in brief:
- Independent Supervisor of Mineral and Energy Extraction in the Netherlands
- Gives (not) advice to the Minister
- The supervisor is under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK)
NAM was furious at SSM’s 2016 advice
Van der Meijden cites another example. One of the tasks of the SODM was to evaluate the extraction plans of the Non-Aligned Movement and advise the Minister on the matter. This happened every year and sometimes several times a year.
This was also the case in 2016. That year, the SSM advised to further reduce gas extraction. According to van der Meijden, the NAM was “furious” about it. how did he know?
Van der Meijden always spoke to the minister a few days before his advice was made public. At that time too. To his surprise, then-NAM director Gerald Schutmann and the heads of Shell (Dick Pinshop) and ExxonMobil (Jost van Rost) joined the conversation.
He found it “uncomfortable”. Not many words were exchanged and the atmosphere was “noisy,” says van der Meyden. Then he was bitten by Schutmann: “You are satisfied only when production is zero.”
The Van der Meijden stories confirm once again that the SSM was not able to function properly due to the interdependence between the ministry and the oil companies. Previously, former supervisor Jan de Jong testified before the investigative committee. He was van der Meijden’s predecessor.
De Jong stated that he was “difficult” in the ministry. He was also accused of being “anti-NAM”.