Victim hopes for "justice" from parliamentary inquiry into Groningen gas drilling
Victim Herman de Muinck hopes the parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen will provide “justice.” He said that at the end of his testimony to the committee of inquiry, in which he described how little the government listened to the people of Groningen over the years.
De Muinck told how in 1959, as a 10-year-old boy, he witnessed the first gas drilling and how he already saw the negative consequences for residents of the extraction area in the early years of drilling. Even then, experts warned about the risks of subsidence, but those noises were “swept under the table.”
“The gas discovery was seen as an ATM,” said De Muinck. “The oil farmers and the State spent enough money there, but the people of Groningen themselves didn’t really notice.” While they did get the burdens “on their plate” without ever asking for it. But “if you complained to NAM about this, you were ignored.”
De Muinck is convinced that “responsible gas extraction” would have been possible if the government and NAM had listened and proceeded to compensate for the damage early. But by failing to do so, they aroused so much resistance that they have “dug their own grave,” he said.
According to De Muinck, anyone who tried to get NAM to compensate their damages encountered an army of “Zuidas lawyers” from Shell, one of the shareholders of the gas company that exploits the Groningen field.
“It is almost impossible to litigate against Shell,” De Muinck expressed the powerlessness felt by many victims. “Those people have so much money at their disposal to have the best lawyers turn up. You as an individual Dutch person cannot litigate against that.” For years, the victims couldn’t expect anything from the government either. According to De Muinck, he was imprisoned in a “marriage of convenience” with NAM.
De Muinck will not let the way he and other victims have been treated go. “Obviously, you take it with you as baggage. It does something to your sense of justice.” Many people’s health also suffered. “Fortunately, no people have died as a result of falling debris, but people have died prematurely due to stress.”
The parliamentary inquiry is intended to map out what gas extraction has meant for the Netherlands and what disruptive consequences the resulting earthquakes have had in Groningen. The parliamentary committee of inquiry is questioning the first witnesses under oath this week. The hearings will continue after the summer break of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.
Reporting by ANP