Two earthquakes shook parts of the province of Groningen Saturday, damaging houses and sending people into the streets, but no casualties were reported. The first tremor hit just before noon at a very shallow depth of 3 km, followed by a slightly weaker jolt an hour later. The epicenter of the quakes, which measured, according to the weather bureau KNMI, 2.7 and 1.7 on the Richter scale, was in the village of Uithuizen, some 18 km north-east of the city of Groningen, but it was also felt in Doodstil, Zandeweer, Middelstum, Warffum, Usquert, Roodeschool, and Toornwerd.
By midday September 24, the public broadcaster RTV Noord received hundreds of reports from residents who had felt the earthquake. According to KNMI, the quake is the sixth to hit Uithuizen within a month.
It is widely believed the earthquakes in the three northern provinces are caused by ground settling following the decades of gas extraction from the Groningen gas field. Tremors in the field, which opened in 1963, began in the 1980s as the soft local clay and sandstone started to shift. According to some estimates, gas drilling activities in northern Netherlands have caused over a thousand earthquakes, damaging 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.
Russia’s moves to drastically limit the amount of gas it delivers to western Europe – and warnings that it may halt supplies completely by the winter – have only added to the perceptions that the Groningen field, which holds enough gas to replace three years of Russian supplies to the EU, might offer one of the solutions.
While an increase in production of gas in Groningen is technically feasible, it is fraught with political, legal and financial difficulties that make it difficult to implement. The state and gas operator NAM have paid out nearly €1.5bn in compensation to affected residents and to fund the reinforcement of homes in the area. That may be one of the reasons why the Dutch government is still on track to shut down the extraction in 2023.
In the aftermath of the quakes in the Uithuizen area, the Groningen Mining Damage Institute said it had received 136 reports of damage.