Ministers, Shell admit failings over Groningen gas fields

A café in the Groningen village of Zeerijp damaged by earthquakes. Photo: Graham Dockery
This cafe in Zeerijp has been shored up for years. Photo: Graham Dockery

Mines minister Hans Vijlbrief has described the findings of the parliamentary inquiry set up to look into problems caused by the exploitation of a massive gas field under Groningen as ‘extremely serious’.

‘If you read the facts one after another, it takes your breath away,’ he told reporters after the report’s presentation. ‘I feel shame more than anything else, and that means we have to do something.’

The highly damning report said that the state and oil firms had a ‘debt of honour’ to the people of Groningen, whose interests were continually subordinated to that of earning money.

More than 1,600 quakes of up to 3.6 on the Richter scale have hit the province since 1986, damaging tens of thousands of homes, but it took until 2018 for the government to start winding down gas production.

Prime minister Mark Rutte said in a short statement that ‘what began at the end of the 1950s as something wonderful ended up in a nightmare for the people of Groningen. ‘Hopefully we can do something to win back their trust,’ he said. ‘The report does justice to the Groningers and the cabinet must do that too.’

The cabinet will issue a formal reaction at a later date.

Oil companies

Shell and ExxonMobil, who jointly own the gas exploration company NAM, have described the report as an ‘important milestone’ which needs to be studied closely.

Both were criticised in the report alongside the government for failing to take the concerns of locals seriously and for putting profit above people.

‘The people of Groningen carried a great deal of the disadvantages of the gas extraction but only a few of the benefits,’ Shell Nederland president Marjan van Loon said in a reaction.

The companies involved in gas extraction, including Shell, did not listen to the people of Groningen properly when they expressed their concerns about the damage to their homes and the safety risks, she said. ‘As a company, we have important lessons to learn.’

Thank you for donating to

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation