Netherlands Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp announced last week the Cabinet would take 1 1/2 more years to study the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on the environment before allowing Britain's Cuadrilla Resources to drill test wells in the central province of Flevoland.
In a Wednesday letter to the House of Representatives in The Hague, Kamp said more time is needed to study the entire range of possible shale gas sites in the country before approving the licenses, the Dutch daily Volksrant reported.
"I have listened carefully to the reactions in both the country and in The Hague," he wrote. "Some possible locations for test drilling for shale gas have been identified by companies applying for a license. But I want to be able to evaluate all sites in the Netherlands where drilling is possible.
"Then attention can be focused on those locations known to be promising, and how their environmental risks can best be overcome."
Kamp indicated he wants to be able to include more input from local governments, such as those in Flevoland -- including the cities of Noordoostpolder, Boxtel and Luttelgeest, which have vociferously opposed "fracking" after being identified as promising shale gas areas.
The Dutch minister said he would examine how local governments can wield more influence in establishing conditions under which licenses for the exploration and possible drilling would be issued.
Cuadrilla Resources said it "regretted" the government decision, but company director Frank de Boer added it could ultimately benefit the British firm, giving it more time to make its case to skeptical lawmakers and local communities.
The government delay came after the coalition partner Labor Party this month put up a political roadblock to approving the licenses. Parliamentary leader Jan Vos said Labor MPs would oppose drilling for shale gas in the Netherlands, thus dashing promoters' hopes of a gaining a majority in favor.
Vos told the local newspaper Brabants Dagblad he and fellow lawmakers had not been swayed by the release of a government-commissioned report last month determining shale gas drilling would be safe.
"The recent report ... into the risks of extracting shale gas has not convinced us it can be done cleanly and safely. On this basis we cannot agree to test drilling," Vos said.
The report, issued by consulting consortium of Witteveen and Bos, Arcadis and Fugro, concluded risks stemming from shale gas in the Netherlands are "very small," but admitted "accumulated risks are slightly larger" than conventional oil explorations due to the greater number of wells required, the trade journal Natural Gas Europe reported.
It claimed there would be very little seepage of methane into vulnerable aquifers as in the United States, because Dutch shale formations are deeper than the American ones.
Dutch political groups staunchly opposed to fracking praised the decision to delay, but some Flevoland leaders remained worried the move may only be delaying an inevitable move tap shale gas reserves.
"The concern is not removed," Noordoostpolder Councillor Andrew Poppe told Volksrant. "I'll sleep peacefully again only if the procedure is definitively put to rest."
Boxtel Councilor Peter van de Wiel called Kamp's move "a good first step," while Mayor French Ronnes of Haaren added, "I'm happy, but not completely happy."