Children in the earthquake zone erase themselves from their parents. For many young adults, their entire childhood was dominated by the earthquakes, Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer told the investigative committee investigating gas extraction in Groningen on Friday.
Sleep problems, nightmares, stress, worries and very difficult to learn. These are just a few of the consequences that the Children’s Ombudsman has outlined.
Many children in the area grow up with parents completely consumed by the effects of the earthquakes. All free time is spent finding out files about damage to their house or about the fortifications.
Sometimes children erase themselves to spare their parents. “It’s the ultimate insecurity if those who are supposed to protect you are themselves desperate,” Kalverboer said.
“As a mother and father, you are a role model for your child. If you see that your parents are unable to get things done, it violates your trust in adults,” explained the Children’s Ombudsman.
This has major consequences for children’s development. About their self-esteem, about how they feel, how they develop cognitively, how they interact with other children and how they can enter into relationships later in life, summarized Kalverboer.
Supervisor critical of the Ministry of Economy
Kalverboer was the last of all the witnesses to be questioned by the inquiry committee. Earlier in the day, it was Theodor Kockelkoren’s turn, the current inspector general of the State’s Supervision of Mines (SodM).
When Kockelkoren started as supervisor in 2018, it was immediately clear to him that Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) and the Ministry of Economy (EZ) were still “four hands on one stomach”. Queues between officials and the subsidiary of Shell and ExxonMobil were “very short”.
Kockelkoren’s predecessor, Harry van der Meijden, described the relationship with the ministry as “a slumbering war” in his interrogation. The Kockelkoren recognize this image, especially in the first few years. The relationship has since improved, he admitted.
‘Then I almost fell off the chair’
Shortly after he took office, Zeerijp was hit by a powerful earthquake. The earthquake had a high ground acceleration. It was “all hands on deck”, Kockelkoren said. According to the legislation and regulations, NAM had to come up with advice and concrete production measures within 48 hours.
The company did not. “The attitude and the tone was a downer,” Kockelkoren said. He went to get a story and was told that officials from the Economy would have told NAM that the company should not give concrete advice.
“Then I almost fell off the chair. It cannot be the case that the competent authority says to the supervised: don’t do what the law requires of you,” Kockelkoren said.
‘They miss the point’
In his questioning, the supervisor was also critical of statements made by Shell’s and NAM’s directors in their questioning. They said the situation in Groningen is “technically safe”.
“They’re missing the point. We’re really not doing the people in Groningen any favors with that,” Kockelkoren said. He emphasized that it is not the oil companies that decide when it is safe or not. According to the supervisory authority, this is a task for the Dutch government.
Both NAM and Shell are based on a model originally from NAM. This model has been further developed by the research institute TNO. But according to Kockelkoren, it is not suitable for determining whether houses are safe. You can use it to make a general risk assessment.
An inspection must be done to determine if a house is safe. It is then assessed whether the building is safe based on the Dutch Practice Guideline (NPR). It is currently estimated that around half of the 27,000 addresses on the list need to be reinforced for inspection. Around 2,600 houses have now been fortified.
With the interrogations of Kalverboer and Kockelkoren, the series of public hearings ended on Friday. The inquiry committee will work on its report in the coming months. She is expected to present it in early spring 2023.