New research programme DeepNL: underground in the Netherlands

Gaining a better understanding of the consequences of human interventions underground

12 October 2017

By the end of 2017 NWO will open a call for the new research programme DeepNL. This is a long-term research programme on the influence of human interventions deep under the ground. With this programme NWO is responding to the advice of the Dutch Safety Board to ensure a structural and long-term research programme into the problems related to gas extraction in the province of Groningen. The programme budget consists of contributions of NAM and NWO and an economic priority area allowance.

With the development of knowledge, NWO can contribute to an improved understanding of human interventions deep under the ground. In its report entitled 'Earthquake risks in Groningen' published in 2015, the Dutch Safety Board noted that in the past there has been too little attention for the development of knowledge related to the extraction of gas in the province of Groningen. The Board advised strengthening the research requirement for mining companies. The advisory report was also aimed at NWO: 'Ensure a structural and long-term research programme conducting integral and independent scientific and applied research into this problem.’

Results accessible for everyone

The results of DeepNL will be freely accessible for everyone, in line with the NWO policy of publishing research results in an open access form. Stan Gielen, President of NWO: ‘The knowledge yielded by DeepNL will not only be important for understanding the consequences of long-term gas extraction in the province of Groningen and what the residents of Groningen can expect over the next 50 years. I think it is also important for other human interventions deep underground, such as CO2 storage, salt extraction, geothermal energy, and the old mining areas in South Limburg.’

Independent assessment procedures

The Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) will contribute fifteen million euros to the DeepNL programme. ‘NAM is pleased that independent research will be performed to gain a better understanding of the processes that take place deep under the ground as a consequence of the production and storage of gases and liquids,’ says Jan van Elk, development manager at NAM. The research programme will be conducted independently in accordance with the standard NWO procedures and the funding decisions will be taken by the board of the NWO Science domain. NAM will not be represented in the programme committee or the selection committee and will therefore have no role in determining the content strategy of DeepNL or the selection of the research proposals. Equally NAM will not be able to derive any rights from the programme and its results, such as intellectual property rights. NAM agrees that the programme must be demonstrably independent and satisfy the quality requirements set by NWO. NWO has already gained good experience working with NAM during the programme Sea and Coastal Research (ZKO).

Research and the call for proposals

Within DeepNL, scientists will investigate the behaviour of rocks after changes in pressure and temperature, for example. In addition, seismological methods will be used to investigate the composition of the deep subterranean layers with the help of seismological methods. These two components of the programme will be brought together in numerical models that will allow the consequences of human interventions to be more accurately predicted. Earth scientists, computer scientists and physicists will form the most important target group of DeepNL. Researchers can submit research proposals about these two subjects in two rounds. The first call is expected to open before the end of 2017.

The programme will have a total budget of about 23.5 million euros. Besides the NAM contribution of fifteen million euros, the programme budget will be supplemented with funding that NWO has reserved such as contribution for the work programme of the Top Sector Energy 2016-2017 , plus an allowance of 3.5 million euros through the Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) Gas.

Harmonisation between DeepNL and KEM programme

The NWO Science domain is responsible for managing the DeepNL programme. The chair of the programme committee is emeritus professor of tectonic physics Rinus Wortel. The committee will be responsible for the content of the programme, especially the harmonisation of projects and the cross-fertilisation that takes place between these. DeepNL will be further harmonised with the Knowledge Programme Effects of Mining (KEM). The Ministry of Economic Affairs established this KEM programme for applied research and to answer short-term knowledge questions, whereas DeepNL will focus on fundamental research in the long term.

More information

Source: NWO


Poppy Savenije (spokesperson) Poppy Savenije (spokesperson) t: +31 (0)6 83893713