After the report on gas extraction in Groningen last month revealed that the state has systematically neglected the seriousness of the earthquakes caused by extraction, the victims having lost all trust in the government, are still skeptical that getting compensation will turn trouble-free.
Earthquakes fractured the house of Marieke Bootsma, living in a village north of Groningen. “We reported a total of 68 damages inside and outside the house all together,” the protester said.
She was lucky and got 18.000 euros from the government. But she protested for the people who haven’t gotten any compensation. Now she hopes the report will make damage claims more humane, but the victims are skeptical. “The Dutch have a saying: we have to see it, before we believe it,” said Bootsma.
Protester Sandra Jacobs says her house has been left untouched by the tremors, but she feels the pain of her community. “We call it a banana republic, that is what the Netherlands has become, more and more,” Jacobs said.
To put the Dutch parliamentary committee’s reports conclusions simply, the Dutch government had for years put money ahead of people. A wake-up call for the politicians. Adequate handling of damage claims might have kept the problems manageable, but the exact opposite happened: prolonged claims procedures, the report said.
Last Friday afternoon in heavy snow around fifty people were demonstrating in front of the Institute for Mining Damage Groningen (IMG), the government agency who handles damage claims. They shared personal stories and acknowledged mutual misery.
Earthquakes won’t stop
The Groningen Soil Movement’s (GBB) chair, Coert Fossen who organised the demonstration said victims have had to struggle. “The damage compensation is slow, there are a lot of arguments, and everything is approached in a juridical way. For 2000 euros you have to go all the way to the highest court, that is exhausting people, it is taking years of their life,” he explained.
Now the locals, who have gotten assurance that they have been always right about the situation, demanded that the state should stop appealing against damage claims and withdraw all current appeals.
Fossen said now the problems are clear and nobody can deny it anymore. “Finally, we feel we won’t have to argue and convince people.” The main goal of the GBB is to pressure on the government to make damage claims more humane.
The GBB has been advocating for the victims for 14 years and will not abandon the fight any time soon, as the earth’s movements will still last for years causing tremors. “In Groningen, we are used to that nothing comes free,” said Fossen.
The head of the IMG, Bas Kortmann came out to face the protesters head on and to answer their critical questions. He felt it was his duty to understand the problems they have and what they feel.
Kortmann said that state secretary Hans Vijlbrief, in charge of dealing with the situation, has agreed with the IMG to drop all the active appeals.
The IMG wants the government now to give them more power and money to deal with the claims to ensure victims will get compensated. Vijlbrief’s office declined our request for comment.
On the other hand, that does not mean the state will never appeal. “If it is a case of big importance. For example, if one party says the damage started in 2012 and the technical people say be it can’t be 2012, then we have to appeal,” he said.
Should close by next year
After postponing the date many times, the Dutch government announced in January that gas extracting from Groningen will be shut by October 2024 latest. The optimistic goal is to close it by October this year, but that depends on gas supply levels in Europe.
Fossen on the other hand said the field will close only when it is written down in a law. “Now it is nothing more than a promise. And promises have been broken every time, that is our experience for the last ten years,” said Fossen.
Currently Europe’s largest natural gas field’s annual output is 2.8 billion cubic meters, the minimum required to keep the pumps working. The consumption of natural gas of the Netherlands was 31bcm last year.
Although some parties have advocated finding a safe way to keep the operation running in an uncertain economic climate, it is possible to replace the fields’ output with either imports or the nation’s other gas extraction operations. So, it would not be an economic disaster.
Hein Dek, a spokesperson for NAM, the company in charge of extracting gas from the field, declined to comment on the predicted financial effect of closing the field. “At the moment few people operate the Groningen field. When production stops it’s not expected the jobs will be lost due to our other activities on land and offshore,” Dek said.