“It is scandalous that gas production increased after the Huizinge earthquake”

The earthquake in Huizinge in 2012 was already “a drama”. But what happened next was truly “outrageous” – gas production increased after that earthquake. And when the good news came in 2018 that the gas tap in Groningen had been closed, “the tremors just started. Suddenly, thousands of families heard that the reinforcement of their homes on hold was placed. Scandalous and a drama.”

Albert Rodenboog (69), former CDA mayor of the former municipality of Loppersum, spoke on Monday before the parliamentary inquiry committee investigating Groningen’s gas production. His posture is restrained, his response stated. “It was all always money-driven.”

After an eight-week summer break, the parliamentary inquiry committee on natural gas extraction in Groningen started on Monday with the questioning of Rodenboog. From 2003 to 2018, he was mayor of Loppersum municipality, the epicenter of the Groningen earthquakes. This week, the hearings are dominated by the Huizinge earthquake of 2012 with a magnitude of 3.6, the heaviest to date, which occurred in Rodenboog municipality.

Rodenboog has been aware of earthquakes in the area since he took office as mayor of Loppersum in 2003. But no one in his municipality was involved in the administrative side, he sounded the alarm as the first administrator. “Until the earthquake in Huizinge, it didn’t play out, the residents got a pot of paint or the cracks were sealed for damage.”

After Huizinge, Rodenboog was full. He believed that Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) should quickly come up with a proper settlement of claims on the houses in the area. But NAM did not thank him for that statement. “They called me that we had such a good relationship. But that didn’t interest me at all,” said Rodenboog on Monday. A few hours later, then Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen even protected the gas extractor. According to him, NAM had excellent claims handling. But he didn’t know what was going on at all.’

Even after the Battle of Huizinge, there was no quick settlement of injuries. “Thousands of damage reports came in, residents were scared,” Rodenboog said. But Minister Henk Kamp, Verhagen’s replacement and Minister of Economy between 2012 and 2017, chose to save time by having fourteen investigations carried out. “It was scandalous because we had a big security problem. Week after week we had serious tremors.”

Risk of death

Seismologist Annemarie Muntendam-Bos (47) from the independent supervisor, Statens Tilsyn med Miner (SodM), also recognized this wait-and-see attitude, heard the other Monday. After the Huizinge earthquake, she started an investigation because NAM and the scientific institute KNMI did not want to carry out ‘proactive’ research.

The SSM study showed that there was a clear connection between gas production and earthquakes in Groningen. The previously assumed probability of an earthquake with a maximum magnitude of 3.9 was not sufficient: earthquakes could be much heavier. This meant that Groningen did not only have to deal with minor damage to houses. There was a serious security risk. Muntendam-Bos: “In earthquakes with a magnitude of more than four, facades, chimneys and even houses can collapse. There was a risk of death, a danger previously unimagined.”

Yet that request was hardly heard. “KNMI, authority in the field of earthquakes in the Netherlands, was hesitant. The Ministry of Economy barely reacted and NAM maintained that the risk to Groningen remained the same.”

To the disbelief of Muntendam-Bos, in 2013, after the publication of the SodM report, then-minister Henk Kamp (Economics, VVD) decided to increase gas extraction to the highest level since the mid-1970s. “We gave urgent advice to reduce gas extraction as quickly as realistically possible, but the gas tap was opened full. It’s incredible.”

Rodenboog still has the disbelief when asked about a possible increase in the current Groningen gas production due to the high gas prices: “It is still uncertain. This realization is not widespread in the Netherlands. People still live in unsafe houses with children. It is impossible.”

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