Dozens of international scientists discussed the new estimates of the strength of the heaviest possible shock as a result of gas extraction at a closed conference in Amsterdam last week. This is confirmed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) after questions from de Volkskrant†
The five-day academic conference could provide good news if it turns out that by scaling back gas extraction, Groningen will have less fear of a heavy blow and has therefore become safer. If the risk of major earthquakes decreases, fewer houses may need to be reinforced. Adjusted insights have repeatedly led to revisions of commitments in this regard. The uncertainty and frustration that this caused will be an important theme during the public hearings of the parliamentary inquiry into gas extraction in Groningen, which start on Monday.
The earthquake near Huizinge in 2012, with a magnitude of 3.6 on the Richter scale, still the heaviest ever in the area, prompted the State Supervision of Mines (SodM) to adjust its insights. After previously assuming a maximum magnitude of 3.9, a shock of 5.0 on the Richter scale now had to be taken into account. In theory, this could lead to 116 deaths. For example, gas extraction in Groningen changed from a damage issue to a safety issue.
A salient detail is that the organization of the earthquake conference was in the hands of the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM). The company is responsible for the gas extraction and also legally liable for the costs of damage repair and reinforcement. But, says the spokesperson for EZK: ‘The workshop has been set up in such a way that an international scientific panel will submit an independent report on the findings.’
The results will be included in a risk analysis by research institute TNO next year. The spokesperson: ‘If it turns out that the expectation of severe earthquakes is indeed adjusted, and the State Supervision also advises this, this could lead to an adjustment of the method by which houses are assessed. That is up to the State Secretary, and NAM has no say in that.’
The Groningen Soil Movement is already bracing itself. ‘Such a workshop should not be an excuse to increase gas production again or to withdraw commitments’, says spokesperson Merel Jonkheid. ‘The only solution is: close the gas tap and strengthen houses as agreed.’
People have been in uncertainty for years, Jonkheid emphasizes. ‘The biggest problem is no longer gas extraction, but that the government keeps changing policy. And when it is later announced that Groningen is safe in theory, the rest of the Netherlands will think: what are those Groningers whining about?’
The State Supervision of Mines oversees the research program and was present at the conference, the agency confirms. SodM does not want to prejudge possible conclusions and implications.
Gas extraction in Groningen is still not safe, the regulator reported in its annual report on Thursday. Moreover, reinforcing houses does not progress at all. The pace must be increased by a factor of three to achieve the target. About 13 thousand houses still need to be reinforced. Thousands of houses are not yet certain that they are safe.
A scientific conference was last organized in 2016 to determine the maximum magnitude for Groningen. That year, gas production amounted to 26.7 billion cubic meters. This year it will be about 5 billion cubic meters. In October, gas extraction in Groningen will be ‘on the pilot flame’, in 2023 or 2024 the field will be closed permanently.
Saturday in the Volkskrant: The sadness of Groningen