Feb 24, 2023 at 12:00PM Update: 3 minutes ago
When extracting gas in Groningen, the interests of Groningen residents have been structurally ignored. This is the conclusion of the parliamentary committee of inquiry in the report Groningers over Gas, which was published today. Here are the key points from the damning report:
This is what the committee saw:
1. The problems of the people of Groningen have long been underestimated by the parties involved, independent experts, politicians, the media and a large part of the Netherlands. The committee says that a lot of misery could have been prevented if the problems had been taken seriously from the start.
2. Money played a dominant role in decisions regarding gas extraction. All parties involved, including the oil companies and the ministry, had agreed to make the Groningen field as valuable as possible. The committee says that it is not surprising that the oil companies, for example, think this way, but was surprised at the extent to which the State did so.
3. Drilling in the Groningen soil was considered necessary to provide everyone with gas, but it was not. The Committee saw that the so-called security of supply of gas to the Netherlands and neighboring countries was often used as an argument. But there were hooks and eyes. For example, the gas from Groningen is indeed very suitable for use, but gas from other gas fields could also have been made suitable.
And although security of supply was often used as an argument, it was not at all clear exactly how much gas was needed to meet this requirement.
4. All parties involved have paid too little attention to the people of Groningen for too long, and still do not. The committee says that the insecurity for the people of Groningen lasted “unacceptably long”. For example, it was only after the serious earthquake in 2012 that the safety of Groningen residents was discussed at all. It was not until five years later that safety was laid down in the Mining Act.
The year 2013 is, according to the committee, a “key moment”. Because after the severe earthquake in 2012, it was advised to turn back the gas tap as quickly and as much as possible. This is at odds with gas extraction in 2013, which was more than in previous years.
And there is still insufficient attention for the safety of Groningen residents. To determine whether something is sufficiently safe, for example, the feeling of insecurity or the stress associated with adapting the houses is still not taken into account.
5. The involvement of the ministry actually worked out well for the oil companies. One of the parties involved in gas extraction is the Ministry of Economic Affairs. And those officials were mainly concerned with financial interests and the security of supply described above.
The information that officials did release was therefore mainly about that, and not about the safety of Groningen residents. But that information was known to the officials. Not only should they have shared that, ministers should also have asked about it. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has also underestimated the problem for a long time, says the committee.
6. The ‘inward looking’ cooperation has caused the parties involved to fail and to neglect their duty of care. That cooperation between, among others, the oil companies and the State was ‘an old boys network’. Not only was the collaboration very inward-looking and little attention was paid to external signals, the parties also had a blind spot for the interests of Groningen residents. Above all, the economic importance of gas extraction should not be hindered by the health and well-being of the Groningen population.
The parties held each other in this way of working. The committee says that this cannot always be traced back to malicious intent or just one of the parties.
7. The flawed and long-lasting way of dealing with damage has actually caused more damage. According to the committee, if the problems of the Groningen people had been dealt with properly and quickly, this could have kept the problems manageable. But now victims run up against a wall of rules, procedures and agreements if they want to resume their lives. Not only is the problem underestimated, but according to the committee there is also “ignorance, disruption and even unwillingness” in dealing with the damage.
8. In addition to dealing with damage, strengthening the houses in the vulnerable area is also not progressing. Residents are told that their house is unsafe and needs to be reinforced, but then have to wait a long time for clarity on this.
9. The administrators closest to the people of Groningen could not stand up for their interests. For example, they argued for a long time that the Groningen residents, who lived in the most precious part of the Netherlands, should be compensated. The Netherlands earned a lot of money from the gas field, but Groningen residents saw little return. But that kind of compensation wishes did not solve much for the people of Groningen themselves, the committee saw.
The regional administrators also did not always succeed in exerting influence on the inward-looking decision-making regarding gas extraction.
10. Remarkably little research has been done into drilling in a gas field that is so important to the Netherlands. The committee finds this difficult to understand. Too little research has been done, too late and by too small a group of people, into drilling in a gas field that has generated so much money for the Netherlands. Within those studies there was also little room for dissenting voices. In addition, the focus was only late on the consequences of gas extraction.
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This must be done:
1. Make claims handling milder, easier and more humane for residents. The committee believes that this should be given high priority. The people of Groningen have been burdened for so long by the harmful consequences of the way in which this is happening now.
2. Quickly provide residents with clarity about the reinforcement. Making the houses in the earthquake area safe will take several years, but must be done as soon as possible. Residents should also be more involved in this.
3. Offer future prospects to the region. It must become more attractive for people and companies to come to the North. If gas extraction in Groningen stops, the region must be left tidy, the committee believes.
4. Ensure that sufficient funds are available for claims handling, reinforcement and future costs. The NAM and the State are still arguing about who should pay what, and this is bothering the people of Groningen. The committee believes that the victims should no longer be inconvenienced by ‘this loyalty’ and that the parties should take more responsibility.
5. Strengthen the role of the supervisor. The supervisor was unable to do much for a long time because there was not enough staff and this person did not always have the right authority.
6. Increase the role of the public interest within departments. Civil servants mainly focus on the interests of the ministry where they work, for example the Ministry of Economic Affairs. This was also apparent in the Groninen dossier. But the interests of the people themselves must also be taken into account.
7. Strengthen the position of the House of Representatives. Within politics, everyone saw only a few pieces of the Groningen puzzle. This made it difficult for the House of Representatives to check whether everything was going well with regard to gas extraction. That is why, for example, more attention must be paid to sharing information with the House and bridging the distance to citizens.
8. Shape future public-private partnerships better. An ‘old boys network’ as it has now emerged must be avoided. Here, too, more attention must be paid to public interests. This can be done, among other things, by giving involved citizens, such as the Groningen residents here, a place in the collaboration.
9. Strengthen knowledge development for the subsurface. The Committee saw that little research had been done into the consequences of gas extraction. That should be improved in the future.
10. Manage the spatial layout of the subsoil. Dutch soil is already being used very intensively, and that will probably be even more so. Better policy is therefore needed on how exactly to deal with the Dutch soil, for example by mapping out the consequences of gas drilling.
11. Invitation to Groningen residents. In recent years there has been a lot of talk about Groningen residents, but too little with them. The people of Groningen must be more involved in decision-making and must continue to indicate what they think is necessary.
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