Damaged Groningen awaits the results of the Parliamentary Inquiry on Gas Extraction

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Propped house in the Groningen Overschild
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  • Reinald Start

    research editor

  • Helen Ecker

    editor Climate and Energy

After lengthy research, dozens of public hearings and sifting through more than 600,000 documents, the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Natural Gas Extraction in Groningen has come to its conclusions today. For the first time in history, a survey report will not be presented in The Hague. Zeerijp in Groningen has been chosen as the location, not coincidentally one of the villages most affected by the earthquakes.

The earthquake in Zeerijp on 8 January 2018 with a magnitude of 3.4 was one of the reasons for the cabinet to decide in that year to stop gas extraction in Groningen. The Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry’s investigation began with interviews of people behind closed doors. The public hearings started at the end of June last year and were completed in October.

A total of 68 people were heard by the committee led by chairman Tom van der Lee. This varied from Groningen victims to senior officials, former ministers, Prime Minister Rutte, scientists and the top of NAM and Shell in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. There were 69 interrogations, because former minister Henk Kamp appeared before the committee twice. ExxonMobil’s chief executive declined to appear. He could not be forced to do so because he does not have Dutch, but Belgian nationality.

Heaviest medium

A survey is the most powerful tool that the House of Representatives can use in its monitoring task. The room where the presentation takes place also contains people whom the committee visited at home last year. They are victims who have a lot of damage or whose house is being reinforced. They have told the committee about the impact it will have on them and their families.

Years ago, the Groningen Soil Movement called on the House of Representatives to conduct a parliamentary inquiry. Initially that was not adopted; many parties felt that the reinforcement operation should first be up to speed and that a new claims office should be set up for mining damage. The turning off of the gas tap and the persistently powerful earthquakes, as well as the difficult progress of the reinforcement of houses, changed this.

The survey sought answers to several questions. For example, how decisions were made about gas extraction at crucial moments, and what the consequences were for Groningen. For an answer to the question of how things could have gone so wrong in Groningen, the committee has gone far back in history; to the very beginning of gas extraction more than sixty years ago.

Blessing for the Netherlands, tragedy for Groningen

Since then, natural gas extraction has brought the Netherlands a great deal of prosperity. Homes and businesses have been benefiting from domestic gas for sixty years. But the negative consequences have been particularly great in the past ten years: countless damage and psychological suffering. A turning point was the most violent earthquake to date: the one near Huizinge in 2012. Six months later, the State Supervision of Mines issued an urgent warning: reduce gas extraction as soon as possible.

There could no longer be an upper limit to the strength of the earthquakes. There were fears for people’s safety if houses or buildings collapsed. But in the year that followed, gas extraction did not decline, nor did it remain the same, but actually rose sharply. It made many Groningen people furious. Former finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said during his interrogation: “I hope you expose who did that.”

One of the most notable moments during the survey was when a decade-old calculation came to light. As early as 2012, people from Gasterra calculated that ‘only’ 27 billion cubic meters of natural gas were needed for the so-called security of supply. In the year that followed, twice as much was pumped up: 54 billion cubic meters. Members of the House of Representatives said they were not aware that so much less was needed. Production was also higher than necessary in subsequent years, as the survey revealed.

Stress for children

During her questioning, the Ombudsman for Children described the suffering among children and young people in Groningen. Their parents are stressed by the problems, which they naturally discuss with each other at home. This makes the concerns for their children unavoidable. Ombudsman Kalverboer said that this is disastrous for the trust these young people have in authorities, the government and politics.

See here how the Groningen gas generated a lot of money for the treasury, but turned out to be a burden for residents of Groningen:

Groningen gas: a billion-dollar treasure that became a curse for many Groningen residents
  • Duped Groningen residents expect little good after parliamentary inquiry
  • Rutte in gas survey: serious situation Groningen only dawned on me late
  • Survey: Shell has wanted to stop gas extraction for years, but the State is keeping it on the pilot light
  • ‘Stopping reinforcement of Groningen houses was wishful thinking’
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    Groningen gas

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  • Politics

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