Economic Minister: Groningen gas extraction a "government failure of un-Dutch like proportions"

Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate called gas extraction in Groningen a "Dutch government failure of un-Dutch like proportions" during a visit to various Groningen municipalities affected by fracking earthquakes on Wednesday. He wants to quickly make agreements with the local governments about the consequences of earthquakes in the province, ANP reports. 

The new Minister started his first working visit to Groningen in Huizinge, a village that started the discussion about gas extraction in the province when it was hit by an earthquake that measured 3.6 on the Richter scale in 2012. Over the past years the province was hit by numerous earthquakes caused by gas extraction. "This is a Dutch government failure of non-Dutch like proportions. The government must redo its homework." Wiebes said.

Wiebes wants to talk to municipalities, the province and the National Coordinator for Groningen Hans Alders to get clarity and map out exactly who is responsible for what in dealing with the earthquake damages. He also wants Groningen residents to come up with a vision for the province. "The claims handling is at a standstill and the reinforcement of houses is going too slowly", he said, according to the news wire. "Groningen has to come up with a vision for the future, because we are not going to randomly put steel into homes. The Hague is not going to determine what will happen in Groningen."

In October various parties in Groningen agreed on what a new damage protocol for gas extraction damage should include. The concept was submitted to Alders and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The damage protocol is a handbook on how the damage reports from Groningen residents with earthquake damage to their homes should be handled. Up until March 31st of this year, NAM - the company responsible for gas extraction in the province - was responsible for handling claims. But the company was then moved aside due to conflicts of interest. 

An amount of 1.3 billion euros was initially allocated to cover gas extraction damage claims filed by Groningen residents. The intent was that this money would cover damages from 2014 to 2018, but by the end of last year, 96 percent of that amount had already been spent. In particular, handling the damage caused by earthquakes turned out to be significantly more expensive than expected. 

After advise from the State Supervision on Mines, the government decided to reduce gas extraction in Groningen in 2015. Last year the NAM could only extract 24 billion cubic meters of gas in the province. This year the limit was reduced by another 10 percent to 21.6 billion cubic meters. In November the Council of State ruled that the Ministry of Economic Affairs should review this limit again. According to the council, the gas extraction decisions did not look carefully into at what quantity of gas the safety of Groningen residents can be guaranteed.