Ministry has long known about safety risks to homes from gas extraction in Groningen
According to investigations by the Dagblad van het Noorden, the Ministry of Economic Affairs had reportedly been aware for more than 20 years of the dangers to the stability and safety of houses, due to earthquakes caused by gas production in Groningen.
In the process, four houses located in the earthquake area of Groningen were examined and investigations by the research company Oranjewoud were forwarded to the Ministry of Economic Affairs. When an earthquake hit Groningen in early 2003, one of the four houses studied shook so badly that the researchers wrote to the then Minister of Economic Affairs stating that "structural safety has been further compromised" and "the future [of the house] is to be feared."
The company had investigated four houses in Middelstum and Kantens for natural gas tremors on behalf of the Ministry of Economy and the Technical Committee for Ground Subsidence (Tcbb), which advises the Ministry of Economy. A year before the earthquake, the surveys had already determined that the houses were unsafe and that there was an "acute risk" to residents. Two months before the earthquake near Middelstum in March 2003, which was caused by gas production, Oranjewoud concluded after the inspection that "changes in the structural and/or constructional condition" were found in all the houses inspected and that urgent measures should be taken
The Ministry of Economy then related that the Oranjewoud report was discussed at that time at a meeting at the Tcbb, where a representative of the ministry was also present. However, the ministry was not aware of any calls for urgent action. "According to our knowledge so far, however, it cannot be determined whether the Tcbb has asked the ministry to take action," a spokesman for the Ministry of Economy told Dagblad van het Noorden.
However, it was suggested that the then economy minister was informed of the Tcbb annual report "in broad terms." Investigation of Oranjewoud, however, did not lead to the step of taking more comprehensive measures in Groningen.
This knowledge of the safety hazard in the houses caused by the earthquakes and the lack of action are all the more serious in light of the severe earthquake near Huizinge on August 16, 2012.
This quake is considered a turning point concerning the risks of earthquakes. Because a short time later, a warning came out from the State Mining Inspectorate (SSM), which then demanded that the gas tap be turned off further, as it was a high safety risk for the residents of Groningen, according to Dagblad van het Noorden. The Ministry of Economic Affairs announced in early 2013 that it would not do so yet, but launched 14 investigations into safety in Groningen.