Rutte accused of lying to inquiry into Groningen gas extraction

A house damaged by previous Groningen earthquakes. Photo: S Boztas

MPs have accused the government of ignoring the welfare of people in Groningen during decades of natural gas production that enriched the Dutch state but damaged the homes and health of local residents.

During a debate on a report by a parliamentary inquiry into the Groningen gas fields, published in February, some opposition MPs called for prime minister Mark Rutte to resign over the issue.

Others suggested he lied about how much he knew about the impact of gas extraction at the time. Rutte told the inquiry that the full extent of the problem only became clear after an earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale, the strongest to date, struck in Huizinge in 2018.

“I think you lied then,” Henk Nijboer, a Labour party (PvdA) MP who grew up in the northern province, told Rutte during Tuesday’s debate. “The basic rights of people in Groningen are being trampled underfoot on a large scale.”

Socialist party MP Sandra Beckerman described Rutte’s evidence to the inquiry as “devastating” and not credible. “Why won’t you take responsibility, why don’t you resign?” she asked.

Rutte and other cabinet ministers will respond to the issues raised in Tuesday’s debate on Wednesday. Around 25 Groningen residents travelled to the debate carrying banners demanding “respect for Groningen”.

Gas production in Groningen is being wound down after some 1,600 earthquakes struck the province, starting in 1986, damaging 85,000 buildings.

The two-year inquiry, chaired by GroenLinks MP Tom van der Lee, said the extraction process had become an “unprecedented system failure” and both the public and private sector had failed in their duties.

The cabinet promised a “new start” in its official response to the inquiry last month, but compensation for many householders has been slow, painstaking and piecemeal.

Only around 30% of homes have been made safe and limited amounts of money were made available for repairs on a first come, first served basis, leading to long queues outside council offices.

The government has pledged to spend €22 billion over the next 30 years as part of the “debt of honour” it owes to the people of Groningen, but critics pointed out that the money had already been earmarked and it would not speed up the compensation process.

Van der Lee’s report called for the government to invest in rebuilding Groningen by attracting new businesses and preserving its cultural heritage.

‘It is not simply about who is responsible,” he said. “It is about the moral requirement to remove the damage and pain done to Groningen and the Groningers, and to make extra staff and money available to do this.”

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