Public hearings in the parliamentary inquiry into the Groningen gas industry kick off on Monday, with representatives of the general public the first to answer MPs’ questions.
The inquiry aims to find out exactly why the exploitation of the massive gas field under the northern province discovered in 1959 has led to so much uncertainty among locals, damaged thousands of homes, caused billions of euros in extra costs and a continuing dispute about who is responsible for what.
GroenLinks MP Tom van der Lee is chairing the inquiry, which MPs hope will help to restore faith in national government. But the commission, he says, realises that ‘more will be needed’ to achieve that aim, given the ‘deep scars’ that have been caused.
‘What started as solvable physical damage to buildings has resulted in frustration, insecurity, impotence and mental issues,’ Van der Lee said at last week’s press briefing. ‘It is high time to uncover the truth.’
This week, the aim is to sketch out the impact of gas extraction and identify the most important questions that need answering. A further six weeks of hearings will take place after the summer break.
In total, some 70 people will be questioned under oath by commission members. This means they can face prosecution if found to be lying.
Particular attention will be paid to decisions made in 2013, a year after the first serious earthquake took pace. That quake is considered to have been a wake up call. Until then, experts had said the quakes would not go above a certain level on the Richter scale.
Inspectors from the mining regulatory body Staatstoezicht op de Mijnen (SodM) called then for gas production to be scaled back massively but in 2013 a record volume was pumped up from under the province. The commission wants to find out what interests had a role in that decision and how it was taken.
The commission started its work in February with preparatory meetings. It now has a staff of 60, has obtained 600,000 documents relating to the gas industry and carried out around 160 interviews behind closed doors.
First up in the public hearings is Herman de Muinck who was present during the first drilling on a farm in Kolham in 1959.
He will be followed by Sijbrand Nijhoff, a horse breeder whose property was seriously damaged by earthquakes and who fought the gas company NAM and the state for years to win compensation.
More than 1,000 quakes of up to 3.6 on the Richter scale have hit the province since 1986. So far, over 126,000 reports of damage caused by the quakes have been made to an official government institute set up to process claims and over €1.15 billion has been allocated to home owners and others to pay for damage.
The new government also has minister with specific responsibility for sorting out compensation for people whose property has been damaged.
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