Gas quakes anger Dutch farmers but relieve state coffers by France24, March 31, 2013
AFP – Farmers living atop Europe’s largest gas field in the isolated northern Netherlands are angry at increasingly frequent earthquakes caused by extraction. Freezing winds and a glimmer of cold light pass through the three-foot by two-inch (one metre by five centimetre) crack in Martha and Jan Bos’s stable in Middelstum, a few miles (kilometres) from the Netherlands’ most northern point. Their farmhouse, built in the early 20th century, has around 15 large cracks and part of the floor inside the entrance has dropped around three inches. “We’ve been living here for 25 years and for the last five years we’ve had regular earthquakes,” Martha Bos, 48, told AFP. Her husband Jan, wearing traditional wooden clogs, is tending to the sheep: “We don’t want to leave, we’ve built our lives here but we’re really very afraid of a big earthquake,” she said. Their home in the northern province of Groningen is built on top of the biggest gas field in the EU, which gives the Netherlands — the world’s 10th-biggest gas producer — two-thirds of its gas, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In February of this year alone, four earthquakes above magnitude 2 have hit the region. The relatively low magnitude is nevertheless felt more because the quakes happen just two miles (three kilometres) beneath the ground, experts say. The earthquakes are a “natural” result of huge pockets of air left underground by massive gas extraction.
But the earthquakes have become increasingly frequent after the Netherlands more than doubled its gas production since 2000, hitting 50 billion cubic metres annually, according to a report published earlier this year by Jan de Jong, the inspector general of the State Mines Surveillance (SoDM) service. There were 110 earthquakes here between 1991 and 2000, SoDM figures say, but the frequency has risen more than six-fold to hit 500 between 2000 and 2013. The Dutch Oil Company (NAM), a joint enterprise between energy giants Shell and Exxon, which is in charge of the extraction admits that the earthquakes are linked to its activities and has set up a 100-million-euro (130-million-dollar) compensation fund. “That’s good, but it’s not enough,” said Corina Jansen, who heads the 1,000-member Groninger Bodem Beweging (Groningen Earth Movement), set up because of “the tumult created by the earthquakes. “Some damage is paid for but besides the fact that the procedure taks a long time, old cases of cracks or land subsidence are not covered,” Jansen told AFP.
“People have had it up to here and if necessary we won’t be afraid to go to the courts to defend everyone’s safety,” she said.
The SoDM’s De Jong wrote that if gas extraction carries on at its current rate, there’s a one in 50 chance that an earthquake of 4.5 magnitude or higher will hit the area in the next 12 months. “It’s not only fear, but also the uncertainty and anger at not being listened to by the government,” said Marijke Bronskema, who lives in the nearby village of Usquert, among the flat fertile fields of the northern Netherlands. Almost every window or doorframe of her one-storey house has been weakened by a network of cracks about six inches long. … In his report, De Jong suggested the government reduce its gas extraction “as quickly as possible to avoid a big earthquake,” but his call was quickly rejected by Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp as “economic irresponsibility”. [Emphasis added]
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