THE HAGUE, Netherlands, May 4 (UPI) -- Construction on Europe's biggest natural gas storage facility can begin north of Amsterdam after a ruling this week by the Netherlands' Council of State.
Wednesday's court ruling in The Hague allowed the Abu Dhabi-backed gas project at Bergermeer to proceed over the objections of environmentalists and local residents who say they fear possible earthquakes, property damage and noise, the Netherlands daily De Telegraaf reported.
Dismissing those concerns as unfounded, the council gave the green light to a consortium headed by the Abu Dhabi national gas company TAQA to reuse the nearly empty Bergermeer reservoir, which once held 593 billion cubic feet of natural gas 7,200 feet underground.
Gas was extracted from reservoir since the 1970s but it is now almost empty. Rather than decommissioning the site, TAQA says it will employ "modern technology and innovation within the energy sector" to reuse the site to store more than 4.1 billion cubic meters of gas, which is enough to heat 2.5 million Dutch households for a year.
In August, the Dutch court ordered a temporary halt to the $1.13 billion project citing the need to study the issue further in the face of widespread objections but Wednesday ruled there were sufficient safeguards.
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs hailed the decision, the newspaper said. The government had granted final statutory approvals and permits to construct and operate the facility in May 2011.
Operations are to start next year with full commercial operations in 2014, TAQA has indicated.
"TAQA has taken every possible measure to implement the project in a safe and responsible way and to minimize any disturbance," the company said in a statement.
Backers tout the project as a way to double the Netherlands' capacity for seasonal natural gas storage and as an important cog in its goal to become the gas hub for northwest Europe.
But environmental group Natuurmonumenten and local officials in the nearby North Holland city of Bergen continue to oppose the plans, even after others dropped opposition when the government promised to draw up an economic compensation package.
They cite the danger of earthquakes caused by the gas storage activities.
"Earth tremors are very common related to gas production in the Netherlands," Jan Willem van Hoogstraten, the managing director for TAQA's operations in the Netherlands told the Abu Dhabi daily The National.
"Over 65 have been measured in the last 25 years and none of them have ever resulted in any personal injury or structural damage."
Other local officials, however, are in favor of the project, including Piet Bruinooge, mayor of Alkmaar, the Dutch town closest the project, De Telegraaf said.
Bruinooge said the city will gain worldwide attention because of the storage facility while North Holland provincial officials are expecting a major economic boost from the effort.
TAQA claims the building of the Bergermeer gas storage project will provide 3,300 man-years of work, including 2,650 in the Netherlands.
Under the plans, six of the site's nine existing wells will be reused and 14 new ones will be drilled, with the associated infrastructure housed underground so that they won't be visible from the surface.
Gas brought to the surface will cleaned, dried and compressed with a new a gas treatment and compression facility will to be built in an Alkmaar industrial park. New pipelines are to be laid to transport gas between the reservoir, the treatment plant and the existing Dutch national gas transport system.