It took almost three years, but then you have something: 53,737 pages of correspondence, reports and reports about the gas and oil company Shell, which the province of Drenthe has made public.
All kinds of documents
A first look at the content: not only obvious topics such as gas extraction and earthquake damage are frequently discussed. The documents also cover, for example, the energy transition, the possible production of hydrogen and the underground storage of CO2.
The reason for publication was the so-called ‘Shell Papers Wob request’ that the Platform Authentic Journalism (PAJ) submitted to nine ministries, three provinces and five municipalities that are known to be involved with Shell.
For the analysis and publication of these documents, the PAJ works together with Follow the Money, RTV Drenthe and RTV Noord.
Shell has maintained close ties with Dutch governments since its foundation at the end of the nineteenth century. The name of the oil and gas giant regularly crops up in economic, fiscal, international, environmental and even educational policies. Examples are the intention to abolish the dividend tax, developments related to the energy transition and of course the earthquake disaster in Groningen.
The PAJ and Follow the Money therefore thought it was high time to thoroughly investigate what these tires look like. What influence does Shell have on Dutch politics? How are the different interests weighed up behind the scenes and what is the decisive factor? And what are the consequences?
Second governing body
Hence the appeal in April 2019 to the Open Government Act. Since then, only four administrative bodies have dealt with the Wob request. The municipality of Assen was the first to cross the bridge in December 2020.
The province of Drenthe is now the second administrative body that has decided to make the documents public. The municipality and the province of Groningen are expected to join this group next summer.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the other thirteen administrative bodies rejected the Wob request for the time being. They find it ‘too indeterminate’, laborious and therefore impracticable. The PAJ tries to change their minds by means of an objection procedure, and if necessary by going to court.
Legal advisor and Wob expert Roger Vleugels, who has been assisting the team in the procedure for three years, hopes that the disclosure by Drenthe will have a positive effect on those who refuse. “It has now been demonstrated once again that this Wob, although extensive, can be carried out as usual. Hopefully the northern administrative bodies will serve as trailblazers for the ministries and the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.”
The Shell Papers team will prepare the documents from Drenthe for analysis. For that we will again enlist the help of the public. This has yielded more than 600 tips in the documents of the municipality of Assen. We are now making the documents searchable in the Shell Papers Dashboard on Follow the Money. It may still take a few weeks before we get there with 53,737 pages, so please be patient.