In the northern Netherlands there is a province called Groningen-a flat farming area. ”Farmhouses are disappearing across the countryside as a peculiar, profound environmental crisis grips the province. At the heart of it are two oil companies, Shell and Exxon Mobil and a government that, for two decades, denied responsibility for its actions and ignored the voices of citizens and scientists. The scandal has already cost the oil companies £1.2 billion, but last month a landmark court ruling gave the victims fresh hope that their voices could be ignored no longer. And if they are right, the consequences could be profound: a compensation bill that could stretch to more than £5 billion in the Holland, and an energy security headache for Europe, and the indication for the world to think about the real cost of burning fossil fuels.”
Why? “Underneath this simple, orderly landscape is one of the biggest and most profitable gas fields in the world. In 1963 the Dutch petroleum company NAM, jointly owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil, first tapped into the 2,800,000,000,000 m³ of gas reserves. The Dutch government cut a deal with the oil companies, and now it owns a 40% stake in NAM’s parent company. The three parties each made fortunes for nearly 30 years. The Netherlands is now the EU’s’s biggest gas producer, and Groningen, generating billions of euros every year, is the jewel in its crown.”
There was no history of seismic activity or fault lines in the area 30 years ago. However, over recent years hundreds of houses have been subjected to subsidence, cracking and demolition. House values have plummeted.
Why? “as more and more gas was extracted-the field is about two thirds empty now-pressure changes deep underground become more severe and unpredictable. Nearly 1000 man-made earthquakes, ranging from 0.12 to 3.6 on the Richter scale, have occurred in the area since the early 1990s”
The Dutch government at first denied any causal link between gas extraction and the earthquakes.. They “maintained this argument for nearly 20 years, despite growing evidence of major damage to buildings NAM has received more than 50,000 damage complaints from people seeking compensation..”
Now an expensive court case has put justice on their side. This is a warning about the long-term effects of depletion of gas pockets deep underground, causing further implosions of rock and earthquakes.
Extracts from The Guardian. Saturday, 10 October 201