Netherlands takes action over gas field earthquakes

The following article appeared in the HazardEx newsletter this week, and is of particular relevance to the UK current discussions over the safety of fracking in Northwestern UK. The HazardEx newsletter can be accessed via www.hazardexonthenet.net

The Groningen gas field was discovered in the 1960s, and is a conventional gas reservoir, it does not use fracking. As the gas is extracted, small earthquakes have occurred as the ground, the roof of the reservoir, settles, presumably as a result of the reduction in the gas pressure below. Tens of thousands of homes have had to be shored up because of damage caused by the earthquakes

The government of the Netherlands apologised on March 2 for ignoring risks posed by earthquakes caused by production of natural gas in the northern province of Groningen. The apology follows a February 18 report by the country’s independent Safety Board that found that the government, together with Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon, had put profits before safety in exploiting the Groningen gas field.

Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp said he was very sorry that the safety interests of Groningers had not received the attention they deserved. He said safety would now come first and that necessary measures would be taken to address the problem.

Last month Kamp ordered production at the Groningen field, Europe’s largest onshore gas field, to be cut by 16% for the first half of 2015, sending prices in northwest Europe surging. He is due to make another decision on production at the field on July 1.

Earthquakes were definitively linked to production at Groningen in 1993, but they became more frequent and intense after production was increased in 2008. Increased gas revenues provided important revenues for the state as the Dutch government pursued unpopular austerity policies.

After a 3.6 magnitude earthquake in 2012 — greater than any Shell and Exxon had forecast — regulators warned the government that citizens’ safety was at risk and called for production to be cut as quickly as possible. But the government did not order a reduction in production until last year, and then only a relatively small one.

The Groningen field accounts for two-thirds of Dutch gas production and the Netherlands supplies about 15% of Europe’s total natural gas, providing an important alternative to Russian gas.

In the wake of the Safety Board report, Dutch political parties across the spectrum are calling for Groningen never to return to former production levels, with left-leaning parties seeking further cuts in production.

Shell and Exxon have so far set aside 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in compensation after 30,000 buildings were damaged by recent earthquakes, although no serious physical injuries have been reported as a result of the quakes.

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