Extra gas extraction angers Dutch region hit by earthquakes

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The government of the Netherlands has sparked anger by announcing it may have to double the amount of gas it pumps this year from a northern province that experienced a string of small earthquakes in recent years.

“I realize it really is a disappointment for people in the quake region that it has indeed proved necessary to extract more gas,” Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Stef Blok said Friday.

The government has pledged to phase out gas extraction in Groningen province because the activity has been blamed for the earthquakes, which badly damaged homes in the region.

But the Ministry of Economic Affairs said Thursday evening that the amount of gas to be pumped this year could double because of long-term contracts with neighboring Germany and construction delays on a facility that would make imported gas suitable for use in the Netherlands.

A lobbying group for residents who suffered million of euros in damage to their homes over the years slammed the announcement.

“The Groningen Earth Movement finds it incomprehensible that the Ministry of Economic Affairs is choosing to open the gas tap further,” the group said in a statement. “A government should not and cannot treat the safety of its citizens so lightly.”

The group said a plan to reinforce or rebuild damaged homes has proceeded slowly and the planned extraction increase “means that the unsafe situation in Groningen will continue even longer.”

The government has reduced the amount of gas pumped from Groningen in recent years and says it still should no longer need to extract any more from mid-2022, assuming there are no harsh winter weather conditions. A small number of pumping stations that could be quickly reopened if needed will remain on standby.

The government had expected to pump 3.9 billion cubic meters between October 2021 and October 2022. That figure could now rise to 7.6 billion, the ministry said. The government is expected to make a definitive decision by April.

The increased demand is caused in part by supply contracts with Germany, where energy-saving measures aimed at lowering use of Dutch gas have not reduced consumption as much as hoped, the Dutch ministry said.

The ministry said Blok this week urged his German counterpart to do everything possible to ensure the extra capacity is not needed.

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