Earthquake warnings Groningen waved away, researchers explain

Experts from government supervisor State Supervision of the Mines (SODm) warned against gas extraction in Groningen and the safety risks it entailed since 2001. This was explained by two SODM staff before the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into Natural Gas Extraction Groningen.

Scientist Hans Roest, who spent years researching soil effects and earthquakes, said he and colleagues were often surprised at decisions to increase gas extraction. โ€œHow is that possible? How is that possible?! Decisions were made that we thought: this leads to absurd situations for safety.โ€

Research and calculations by Roest have long indicated that extracting gas in porous layers, such as Loppersum, could cause considerable tremors. But other scientists saw that opportunity as very small. โ€œIt‘s kind of like a truck driving by, they said. I quickly saw that wasn’t right.โ€

But the warnings barely seeped through and supervision and enforcement came to nothing. This was not only due to a difference in scientific insights. The involvement of the state in what had to be independent supervision and the fact that the state benefited from the proceeds of the gas also played a role.

‘No one wanted to hear that’

Hans de Waal, former Shell researcher and later consultant at SoDM, also said that there was little attention for all early signs that earthquakes were a risk. To the committee, he said, โ€œI don‘t think it was welcome. No one wanted to hear thatโ€.

Their lectures endorse the conclusions of a large-scale study by the Safety Board that appeared in 2015. Both talked about a tunnel, a kind of tube vision. The small group of stakeholders from the government and the oil companies represented in the NAM did not want to know about safety risks.

Learn more about yesterday’s survey and interviews here:

Advising geologist Peter van der Gaag, who was also heard by the Committee of Inquiry, rang the bell with Hans Roest about the earthquake risk in the early 90s. โ€œAt that time, we were already visiting people‘s homes to see damage. Mrs. Van der Laan was already able to see through the wall in 1991.โ€

He demonstrated the relationship between the speed of extraction and the quakes and then called for more and better measurements. โ€œYou’ll hear ‘what are you interfering with’ or ‘you’re a smart one‘.โ€ Large research firms pushed him out of the public procurement market as stubborn, he says.

Van der Gaag showed his analyses to insurers. They thought there was money to be made with earthquake insurance. But they quickly stopped that after his alarming story.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs, which includes gas extraction, took its work less seriously. It was only after the massive earthquake in Huizinge in 2012 that the ministry received more attention for the quakes. Why, that’s going to be discussed tomorrow.

Tomorrow, the committee of inquiry will interview George Verberg, former top energy officer at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and later director at the Gasunie, and former Minister Jorritsma (VVD) of Economic Affairs. Both interviews can be followed live via NPO Politics.