The Groningen gas field was discovered in 1959 and has been ruthlessly exploited since
By Margherita Capacci
Protesters in Groningen have again demanded that the Dutch government stop gas extraction in the Province, and make residents feel safe again, after repeated earthquakes caused by gas drilling have struck the area time and again, for decades.
On September 25, at the first climate strike organised by Fridays for Future Groningen after the Covid-19 lockdown, around 150 people protested to the rhythm of drums, pans, and bells.
Chris Ashford, a member of Fossielvrij Groningen, demanded that the national government move quickly to a sustainable economy (one not based on fossil fuels), and take responsibility for the social problems caused by gas extraction in the region.
First discovered in 1959, the gas field in the northernmost province of the Netherlands has provided a major source of income both for the national government and the NAM, a joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil. From the 1980’s, underground changes, mainly caused by gas drilling, have caused more than 1,000 earthquakes in the North. The strongest occured in 2012, with a 3.6 magnitude, destroying or damaging thousands of properties and leaving the population to deal with both economic losses and psychological stress.
Nevertheless, the government in the Hague has only recently announced its plan to stop gas extraction by 2022.
But some people remain skeptical, still. Among them, Gerry Kuipers (a protester that attended on September 25) does not believe that the end of gas production is actually going to happen. “Money, it’s all about money” he said when asked about the government’s handling of the situation. “They should take responsibilities to us Gronings and they don’t, they never have and they will never do”, he added.
In December 2019, Kuipers had to move from his old house at seismic risk to a new one that he described as smaller and showing cracks, due to rushed construction. According to Kuipers, the money given in compensation was not enough to cover the moving expenses and the now-higher rent. The Northern Times has been unable to verify these claims with organisation letting the house. Since the move-in, “there’s not one second that I could say [I have] happy home”, says Kuipers.
Kuipers’ house was one of the more than 300 buildings in Opwierde-Zuid (Appingedam) that have been declared unsafe by the National Coordinator Groningen (NCG). In cooperation with the local and national governments, the NCG has, since 2016, run a house reinforcement plan in seven municipalities of the earthquake region of Groningen. The plan assesses the seismic risk of the buildings and takes measures accordingly. Some houses have their structures reinforced, while others are torn down and re-built.
However, this plan shows some problems, say protestors. By August 2020 only 1,197 addresses across the seven municipalities affected have seen their reinforcement projects completed, out of the total 26,000 estimated at risk, according to the NCG’s dashboard.
Petra de Maar, a spokesperson for the NCG, says over the telephone that the NCG is trying to make the reinforcement procedure faster. She expects more results by the end of the year.
From the podium at the protest, Ashford also made the point that simply reinforcing a property does not stop it falling down, rather it just gives people a few minutes to leave their home in the event of an earthquake. When asked for a response, De Maar says that the assertion is correct- the houses are re-built following the national safety guidelines, which are designed to give people enough time to leave should an earthquake occur. “Falling is a big word”, she says, adding that the NCG do not expect any houses to collapse completely.
Meanwhile, earthquakes are still hitting the northern province of the Netherlands, the last series of tremors being reported at the beginning of September. “People just deserve the basic right to live in a safe house” summed up Ashford.
More information about gas-induced earthquakes in Groningen and Friesland can be found on the KNMI’s earthquake scanner.
Margherita Capacci is a journalist living in Groningen
Image via Margherita Capacci