The government has set aside an extra €13.5 billion to help solve the problems facing Groningen and the north of Drenthe as a result of decades of gas extraction.
The money comes on top of the €8.7 billion already allocated, prime minister Mark Rutte and mines minister Hans Vijlbrief said on Tuesday afternoon, during a visit to the Groningen village of Garmerwolde.
The total is well below the €30 billion plus which local politicians had said would be necessary to repair damage to property and boost the regional economy.
Nevertheless, for the next 30 years, the government will spend €250 million a year on improving living standards and the economy in the area affected by the quakes, as part of what ministers earlier described as their ‘debt of honour’ to the region. The rest of the money will go on repairing damage to property.
The payments were recommended by a government inquiry published earlier this year, which said the interests of the people of Groningen had been placed second to the financial importance of the gas earnings for decades.
Rutte again apologised for the mistakes which had been made and the way locals had been ‘abandoned’. The damage caused by 60 years of gas extraction cannot be undone by a stroke of the pen, Rutte said. ‘We must be seen to take action,’ the prime minister said.
Vijlbrief told locals that the cabinet would tackle the damage to homes, but that solving the emotional damage would be more difficult. He said he was ashamed of what the government had done, and that ‘generations living in the earthquake zone have been seriously disadvantaged.’
In total the government is planning to take 50 separate measures, including widening the conditions for compensation for damage to property – which the inquiry had recommended.
More than 1,600 quakes of up to 3.6 on the Richter scale have hit the province since 1986. Some 85,000 buildings have been damaged at least once, but to date only 30% of homes have been made safe again.
Other measures include the establishment of ‘earthquake coaches’ to help people deal with problems caused by the quakes. Plans are also being drawn up in an effort to cut unemployment and the school drop-out rate.
The Dutch state has earned more than €360 billion from the exploitation of the Groningen gas field since extraction began in 1963.
Total revenues from the gas region amounted to €428 billion when adjusted for inflation, of which €360 billion went into the government coffers while €66 billion was split between Shell and ExxonMobil, the joint owners of NAM, the company set up in 1963 to distribute Dutch gas.
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