Gas extraction in the province of Groningen was so lucrative for the Dutch state and energy giants Shell and ExxonMobil that they disregarded the long-term risks and clear signs of adverse effects on the residents of Groningen, a report by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into Natural Gas Extraction in Groningen concluded Friday.
Since the drilling began sixty years ago, the Netherlands has benefited greatly from the natural gas extracted from the Groningen field: the national treasury earned €363 billion, while Shell and Exxon’s revenue was about €66 billion. However, “the interests of the people in Groningen were structurally ignored,” the report says. Less than one per cent of that total flowed back to Groningen, whose community feels sidelined by the government and gas companies.
The commission said large-scale extraction caused numerous tremors leaving thousands of residents with damaged homes and health issues. It is widely believed the earthquakes in the three northern provinces are caused by ground settling following the decades of drilling. Tremors in the Groningen field, which opened in 1963, began in the 1980s as the soft local clay and sandstone began to shift. According to the parliamentary commission, gas drilling activities in northern Netherlands have resulted in 1,594 earthquakes, sending cracks through 85,000 family homes, farms, businesses and architectural landmarks.
After initially ignoring the problem, the government reduced the amount of gas pumped from Groningen to minimize seismic risks in the region. Local residents, who suffered millions of euros in damage to their homes over the years, have lobbied hard for the end to gas extraction to ensure that the main cause of the earthquakes disappears. But the future of the Groningen gas field has taken on new importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent the energy prices through the roof, leading a few European politicians to demand not only that the gas extraction should continue, but also that drilling should be intensified.
Groningen is Europe’s largest natural gas field, with reserves that could replace the pipeline gas that Russia no longer pumps westwards. The commission recommends, however, that the authorities and businesses should not put profits before people.
The parliamentary commission also calls on the government to simplify the processing of claims for damage and ensure sufficient funds are available for compensation.