Researchers: ‘Tunnel vision led to lack of knowledge about earthquakes’ | NOW

There should have been more independent research into the relationship between earthquakes and gas extraction much earlier. According to scientist Hans Roest, this could have prevented those responsible from ending up in a tunnel. On Tuesday, he, like scientist Hans de Waal, shared his story of tunnel vision, conflicting findings and ignored signals.

Both scientists condemn the tunnel vision that existed from the 1990s until the Huizinge earthquake in 2012. “As a result, it has received severely insufficient attention. Too little external feedback has been sought,” says De Waal. Roest believes that more space for independent sounds could have prevented tunnel vision from developing.

The Dutch Security Council (OVV) also wrote this in its hard-hitting report from 2015. The stories told on Tuesday were therefore not entirely new, but they did give a shocking picture of the course of events over the years.

In the late 1970s, De Waal researched subsidence due to gas extraction and found that the situation was worse than Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) assumed. His model was adopted a few years later, when NAM saw the sinking take place in practice.

Nevertheless, in 1989, the NAM switched back to the old model, which predicted a lower decline. This happened after a second opinion (on behalf of NAM) was conducted by renowned scientists from the American University MIT. They concluded that NAM could use this model.

Hans de Waal

  • Worked from 1977 as a researcher in sentences due to gas and oil extraction at Shell Research
  • Ph.d. on the effects of gas extraction in the Groningen field on subsidence
  • Discovered that the sinking in Groningen increased more than previously assumed by NAM
  • Started working for regulator SodM. in 2009

De Waal felt ‘persona still grata’ at NAM

De Waal: “I was very surprised and still do not understand.” At the time, he felt a kind of “persona non grata” on NAM. “We were still on footbut the relationship was over. “For years, these limited effects on subsidence were maintained until NAM finally in 2016 could no longer maintain that De Waal’s model was wrong. Only then was he (again) right. asked.

De Waal is excited about whether the Committee of Inquiry will still uncover what in 1989 was the reason why NAM put its model off the table.

Roest ‘not allowed to look up in the media’

In 1993, it was recognized by a special commission that there was a link between gas extraction and earthquakes. Roest, who was seen as a “sleeper”, has been pointing this out for some time. The researchers also said the damage would be “minor” and that the quakes would have a maximum magnitude of 3.3.

Roest did not share this conclusion, but the committee did not want to hear about it. He was told that he “must not look up in the media” and that KNMI was a spokesman. After the earthquake in Huizinge, it turned out that he was right.

Roest joined the Independent Geologists Platform in 1993. These scientists expressed much criticism of NAM and Shell because there was no independent knowledge. At that time, Roest was still working at TU Delft, but was the subject of discussion there due to his vision. “There was no more money from NAM for earthquake research,” Roest says.

He spoke of a field of tension in which his employer found himself: “We must be independent as a university, but everything falls off the wall when the word Shell is mentioned.”

Hans Rust

  • Worked at TU Delft for 25 years
  • Already established years before the ‘official’ recognition that there was a link between earthquakes and gas extraction
  • Joined independent platform Geologists, but NAM ignored their observations
  • Started working at SodM in 2001, worried about the number of earthquakes early

‘KNMI thought we should not interfere’

Both scientists were very critical of the KNMI during their interrogations on Tuesday. The institute that studied the seismicity kept to a maximum size for a long time.

Both De Waal and Roest eventually switched to State Supervision of Mines (SodM). The regulator began to worry about the increase in the number of earthquakes from 2006 onwards. “The KNMI said it was not a problem,” De Waal said. “They also felt it was their expertise.”

“How is it possible that people have been in that tunnel for so long?”

Hans de Waal

This maintained the notion that earthquakes were not a cause for concern, Roest explains. He tried to get the discussion going, because “Groningen was out of step”, but it did not succeed.

The earthquake in Huizinge was necessary to finally break through this “broadly supported idea”. “No one was awake before that,” Roest said.

‘How is it possible? Has no one ever been in doubt? ‘

De Waal took the opportunity to conduct his own investigation. After two weeks, he already questioned the KNMI’s assumption that an earthquake would have maximum strength. SodM found that an upper limit could not be determined at all and that the amount of gas extracted had an impact on the earthquakes. “The KNMI also thought we should not interfere in it,” says De Waal.

He still wonders, “how is it possible that people have been in that tunnel for so long”. “Has there never been any doubt?”

Both de Waal and Roest still find it astonishing that very little research has been done in the Netherlands. The few people who have been concerned about the environmental consequences of gas extraction since the 1980s were all in the same tunnel, the researchers say.

“Hundreds of billions have been earned in the Groningen field. And if you look at what has been invested in independent knowledge development, it is very little,” concludes De Waal.

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