After six decades of gas extraction, the gas taps in Groningen will be officially closed this Sunday, September 30. The decision marks the end of an era that has brought both wealth and woes.
The gas field in Groningen, discovered in 1959, was once the largest in Europe and a major source of income for the Dutch government. However, the gas production also caused thousands of earthquakes, damaging homes and buildings and endangering lives. The residents of Groningen have been protesting for years against the gas extraction and demanding compensation for the damages.
In 2018, the government announced that it would gradually phase out gas production in Groningen by 2030, citing safety and environmental concerns. However, due to lower gas demand and higher gas imports from other countries, the phase-out was accelerated. The last gas well in Groningen will be shut down this Sunday, four years ahead of schedule.
The closure of the gas taps is a historic moment for Groningen, but also a bittersweet one. Many people are relieved that the earthquakes will stop, but also worried about the future of the region. Some fear that Groningen will be forgotten by the authorities and left behind in terms of economic development and social services.
Prominent Groningers speak out
Chris Garrit, an events organizer and activist involved in the gas dossier, says that Groningen has been ‘an ATM for the Netherlands’ for decades. “They took a lot of money from the ground, and little has been given back,” he says. “We are still lagging behind in many things. Community centers are closing, bus routes are disappearing. Groningen is left to its fate.”
Garrit believes that it is not the authorities but the Groningers themselves who have brought an end to gas extraction. “They continued to stand on the barricades and kept demanding attention. We will keep doing that, for Groningen!”
Coert Fossen of the Groninger Bodem Beweging (GBB) expressed concerns about the closure of the gas field not being definitive. He says there is still a possibility that gas production could resume in case of an emergency or a shortage. The GBB plans to appeal the decision and consider ways to further emphasize Groningen’s opposition. Fossen also expressed concerns about the role the upcoming Dutch parliamentary elections might play. ‘There have been significant shifts in parliament in recent months, and I expect them to change again after the elections,” he predicts.
Concerns about the future
Former gas reporter Goos de Boer warns against premature celebrations. He believes the gas woes are far from over and that the Groningen struggle is must continue.
Sandra Beckerman, a member of the Socialist Party, said that the closure of the gas tap is thanks to courageous Groningers who forced consecutive gas decisions to be annulled. However, she also said that this is not a historic weekend for Groningen because the government is not definitively closing the gas tap. Beckerman said that the Groningen struggle will continue until the government provides a just solution for the many thousands of people who are stuck in damaged or unsafe houses.
The closure of the gas taps also raises questions about what will happen to the former gas sites and facilities in Groningen. Some of them will be dismantled, while others will be repurposed for alternative energy sources or other uses.
End of an era after 60 years
The closure of Groningen’s gas taps marks the end of an era. Gas extraction has had a profound impact on the province, both positive and negative. It has provided the Netherlands with much-needed energy, but it has also caused widespread damage and suffering.
The closure of the gas taps is a victory for the people of Groningen, but it is also a reminder of the cost that they have paid. The people of Groningen expect the government and energy compamnmies to pay for the damage that gas extraction has caused to their homes, businesses, and infrastructure, and to help rebuild the province.
As Groningen prepares to bid farewell to its gas era, the hope is that it will also usher in a new era of prosperity and sustainability for the region.