Dutch court orders halt to gas production in quake-hit town
Concerned groups and opposition political parties in the Groningen province dragged the Dutch government to court to demand a halt to gas extraction from the field where production has hit 50 billion cubic metres annually.
"For the time being, gas may be extracted in and around Loppersum only if extraction from other locations is no longer possible and if required to ensure supply security," said the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, the Council of State.
Loppersum has a population of around 11,000 and has become the epicentre of earthquakes blamed on gas extraction from five wells in the town.
Many residents are angry and in February a commission lashed out at the government and energy companies saying they put gas production and earnings ahead of people's safety.
Judge Thijs Drupsteen on Tuesday however said there was "no reason to stop gas extraction from the Groningen gas field in full."
Also, "it's not disputed that gas exploitation from the Groningen gas field is essential for Dutch energy supply... and is a large revenue source for the Dutch state," the judge said.
In response to the ruling, Dutch Economics Minister Henk Kamp was quoted as saying by ANP news agency that the Loppersum gas wells would now be set at the lowest output level possible to ensure they remain operable.
The minister had already announced in January that production would be slashed in the Groningen gas field by 20 percent over three years.
The Netherlands is Europe's second-largest producer, after Norway, and makes an annual average of 13 billion euros ($13.8 billion) from gas.
The Groningen gas field has been operational since 1963 and is the largest in the European Union.
In a move aimed at countering growing local anger, Dutch Economics Minister Henk Kamp said in January that the field would have its production slashed from 42.5 billion cubic metres in 2014 to a maximum of 39.4 billion cubic metres this year.
The field produced 50 billion cubic metres in 2013, and provides the Netherlands -- the world's 10th-biggest gas producer -- with two-thirds of its gas.
Tuesday's verdict however is only preliminary with a more in-depth ruling based expected in September.
© 2015 AFP