Former National Coordinator Groningen Hans Alders felt “cheated” at the end of his time as coordinator. Thats what he told the parliamentary committee of inquiry about gas extraction in Groningen.
Alders left because the reinforcement operation was stopped in 2018, immediately after the decision of then Minister Wiebes of Economic Affairs to accelerate the closure of the gas tap in Groningen. In the letter announcing his departure at the time, Alders said that he should have bitten through a sour apple several times.
When asked to explain this during the interrogation, he said: “In your file, you can see that at one point I really had the idea that we were being cheated. All that was used to slow down, to make it small, and you name it. At one point, I said: Im really fed up with it now. Im going outside with this.”
No urban renewal
Until then, Alders had made frantic attempts to map out how many houses in Groningen are no longer safe due to gas extraction. Building inspections commissioned him to produce an estimated number of more than 20,000 addresses. All of them probably had to be strengthened to a greater or lesser extent.
The ministry found that number alone far too large. The guiding principle was a calculation model developed by gas extraction company NAM. In that model, the number of unsafe houses was much lower. But, Alders said: the Dutch Petroleum Company (NAM) also saw during physical inspections that the model was wrong.
The cabinet was very concerned about the financial risks of this operation. It was feared that the Empire would pay for it, because the NAM did not want to pay for all that. This is also what former Secretary General Maarten Camps of the Ministry of Economic Affairs told the committee today.
Alders noticed, to his chagrin, that behind his back, the Ministry of Economic Affairs tried to reduce that reinforcement operation. “A circuit was created where there was more faith in what the NAM said than the National Coordinator Groningen.”
According to him, this had everything to do with the liability that was placed with the NAM. Alders: “Everything had to be approved by NAM. That was discussed at a detailed level.” He already saw this clearly at the former Center for Safe Living (CVW), which was still responsible for dealing with damage and reinforcement in 2014.
Alders found that the NAM had to give the center a “work order” before anything happened. “As long as it wasnt there, the bill was not paid. Thats what I found out when I wanted to know why nothing happened. The line was: no matter what happens, NAM is liable so NAM must assess that.”
According to Alders, that is still the case. “Thats why bills are not paid. This is still stated in the agreements between NAM and the ministry: NAM pays all costs.” In doing so, he points to the subphrase “as long as safety is at stake”, which is still a matter of discussion today.
Curious job application
The committee came back today to Harry van der Meijdens application process as Inspector General of State Mines Supervision in 2014. Van der Meijden said that a gas sector representative was on the application committee.
Maarten Camps, who was then the highest official on Economic Affairs, received questions about this. According to Camps, it was necessary to have the representative on the committee, because the ministry did not have people in-house with sufficient knowledge about the gas world.
to Camps himself, he said, “also a bit uncomfortable” about that. “But that came from a past, where the Nogepa (interest group for oil and gas operating companies, ed.) also sat at the table,” he explained. “I thought it was important that someone who knew about the gas world could watch. He was only there as an advisor. There were no experts at the ministry itself.”
When Jan de Jong, the supervisor who advised to extract less gas as quickly as possible, the Nogepa did not sit on the application committee. At that time, however, there was an expert employee of the State Mines Supervision. Van der Meijden succeeded De Jong.