Dutch 'put production before safety' in quake-hit area

18th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch public commission said Wednesday government and energy companies had put production ahead of safety in Europe's biggest gas field, triggering a series of minor earthquakes.

"It seems that safety in regards to earthquakes had no influence on the decision to extricate gas" from northern Groningen, the independent Dutch Safety Board (OVV) said in a report.

The OVV launched an investigation in early 2014 following numerous protests and complaints by villagers after quakes damaged farms, homes and historic buildings in the area.

The earthquakes increased in parallel with gas extraction, growing from 110 tremors in the 1990s to 500 between 2000 and 2013.

The relatively low magnitude earthquakes are described as a "natural" result of huge pockets of air left underground by massive gas extraction.

The OVV's report which investigated incidents between 1959 and early 2014 said "maximum production took precedence over safety".

It said a bulwark of companies including the Dutch Earth and Oil Company (NAM), Shell, ExxonMobil and Gas Terra formed a "closed circle aimed at consensus" about gas production.

The Dutch economics affairs ministry "as the only governmental party was supposed to have the public's interest at heart."

"Yet it formed part of this same bulwark that gave production the priority," the OVV said.

Last year, government announced it would slash gas production in northern Groningen from 50 million cubic metres to 40 million cubic metres by the end of 2016.

The Netherlands is Europe's second-largest producer and makes some 13 billion euros ($14.7 billion) annually from gas.

The Groningen field, the biggest in the European Union, provides the Netherlands -- the world's 10th-biggest gas producer -- with two-thirds of its gas.

The OVV said "the damaged relationship between Groningen's residents and gas mining needs to be fixed."

"This starts by the parties involved admitting that until 2013 they've not paid enough attention to people's safety."

"It also means giving Groningen's residents a bigger say in the decision-making when it comes to activities deep underground."

© 2015 AFP

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