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Latest earthquake in Netherlands could lead to earlier than planned gas production shutdown

22 May 2019

The province of Groningen in The Netherlands was hit by a significant earthquake in the early hours of May 22, thought to have been caused by ground settlement following the extraction of natural gas. The quake measured 3.4 on the Richter scale, making it the third strongest in the province in recent years. 

Groningen gas extraction facilities - Shutterstock
Groningen gas extraction facilities - Shutterstock

Local authorities have received many reports of damage, including 12 requiring immediate assessment, news agency ANP said. There were no initial reports of casualties.

The first earthquake linked to gas extraction was experienced in 1986 and there have been over 1,000 since then. Most were considered tremors rather than earthquakes, but in 2012 the province was hit by one measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale which caused considerable damage to hundreds of homes and other buildings.

After another 3.4 quake in January 2018, the government pledged to end production by 2030 and to lower it as quickly as possible in coming years.

Output at the Groningen field, which is operated by NAM, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, is set to fall to 19.4 billion cubic metres (bcm) in the year through October 2019, down from a 2013 peak of 54 bcm.

Residents demanding an outright stoppage took their fight to the highest court in the Netherlands early this year. In March Dutch MPs unanimously backed a call for a parliamentary inquiry into continued gas extraction in the province.

After last year’s quake, gas sector regulator SodM said production should be cut to less than 12 bcm as soon as possible to minimise seismic risks.

The regulator said it would publish a full updated analysis with recommendations for future production “within a month”, with a preliminary assessment expected on May 28.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on TV everyone had been optimistic about the discovery of the vast gas field under the province in in the 1950s, but it had now “turned into a nightmare”.


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