Henk Kamp in the room where the parliamentary committee of inquiry holds the hearings about gas extraction in Groningen.Image Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

    “We were full of good intentions. We constantly came up with new solutions. But it got so complicated that it got stuck. Conference table solutions have not led to public satisfaction.’ It was a rare acknowledgment of an imperfection by Henk Kamp. But an omission that cannot be attributed solely to himself, the former Minister of Economic Affairs.

    On Monday, Kamp – key player in the gas file – had to provide text and explanation for the second time to the parliamentary committee of inquiry that is examining gas extraction in Groningen. Last month, he was mainly asked about the hesitation about turning off the gas tap in 2013 and 2014. Now it was mainly about the bureaucratic degeneration that followed in the following years.

    ‘Gas bingo’

    But first Kamp was embarrassed twice. He was again reminded that in 2014 he incorrectly informed the House of Representatives about the reasons for the higher gas extraction in 2013. Figures he supplied turned out to be incorrect, according to a reconstruction of the ministry itself in 2015. But that information was given to the public. The House of Representatives could not be heard then either.

    Bart Jan Hoevers (Gasunie Transport Services), who was interrogated before Kamp, put the minister in a difficult position in another respect. Hoevers said – contrary to what Kamp claimed in his previous interrogation – that it was ‘quite possible’ to reduce gas production earlier by using nitrogen installations. But Gasunie was not consulted, Hoevers said. Still, Kamp insisted that he had been told that those installations ‘couldn’t run at full capacity’ – although there was no source reference.

    Committee members took Kamp back to the gradually phasing out gas production, the ‘gas bingo’ that was regularly played in the House of Representatives during Kamp’s ministerial position. Just as during his ministerial position, the VVD member persisted in lines of reasoning about flat extraction and possible cold winters. That according to GasTerra, 8 billion cubic meters less could be extracted in mid-2013? “I can’t imagine that.”

    About the delayed construction of a new nitrogen plant, Kamp said: ‘I thought it would be a questionable investment.’ Kamp’s successor Wiebes found the key to turning off the Groningen gas tap in the installation (which will go into operation next month). A ‘slumbering war’ with State Supervision, as former Inspector General Harry van der Meijden claimed? “Strange I never noticed.”

    Tough and complicated

    Where other witnesses used hindsight during interrogations, Kamp stood his ground. That the Safe Living Center, a commercial organization that handled the damage for a few years on behalf of the NAM, was not functioning properly? Kamp had never heard of that. And shutting down the damage protocol, was that a good idea? ‘Yes.’

    Former mayor of Slochteren Geert-Jan ten Brink had just told Monday morning how much Groningen administrators in Kamp saw not an ally, but an opponent. As early as 2013 – the year after the earthquake at Huizinge and the subsequent advice from the State Supervision of Mines to reduce gas extraction – mayors at Kamp argued in favor of freezing or lowering the level of gas production a bit, in order to achieve a ‘ gesture’.

    ‘The minister was not interested in that. And he was supported by a majority of the House of Representatives.’ It led to municipalities going to the Council of State to have the gas tap turned closer – where they were found in the right.

    Ten Brink also talked about the constant struggle and difficult negotiations between the government and the region about the costs of reinforcing houses. Expenses were disputed, declarations could only be made afterwards. ‘I don’t buy a bag of liquorice at the Jamin, do I? This was almost at the level of bullying fellow governments, while meanwhile you say you are one government.’ Camp acknowledged that. ‘The necessary cooperation between municipalities, the province and the central government has not materialized. The three of us didn’t succeed.’

    The conclusion: during his ministry, not thousands of houses per year, but in total only a few hundred houses were reinforced. ‘The reality was very tough and complicated. I misjudged the complexity. I didn’t leave with the idea: it’s solved.’