‘Stopping the strengthening of Groningen homes was wishful thinking’

The Ministry of Economic Affairs has thought too simply about strengthening unsafe homes if the gas tap in Groningen were to close. This is what the witnesses heard today by the parliamentary survey of gas extraction Groningen conclude.

This morning, it was Chris Kuijpers, Director General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (2017-2022) and Kajsa Ollongren. She was the senior official at the Ministry of General Affairs (2011-2014) and Minister of Internal Affairs (2017-2022). During that period, Internal Affairs took over the reinforcement operation in Groningen from the Ministry of Economic Affairs for a few years.

In March 2018, then Minister Wiebes of Economic Affairs decided to shut down the gas tap in Groningen from mid-2022, convincing his colleagues in the cabinet to reduce further than the 12 billion cubic meters of gas previously recommended by the State Mines Supervision. This had everything to do with a new severe quake in January of that year, but also with the difficult to estimate the number of unsafe houses in the gas extraction area and the strengthening of those buildings.

Wiebes wanted to take the time to first strengthen the most unsafe buildings. This approach led to anger among Groningen people because they remained in uncertainty about the safety of their home for even longer. And there was inequality in villages and streets between people who had already been told that their building would be tackled and others who did not.

Speculative

At that time, top official Chris Kuijpers first wondered whether the decision to go to 0 was possible. What would it mean for security of supply? He also feared that Wiebes was too positive about the effect of stopping gas extraction on the amplification task, because the earthquakes would not end. In an internal memo, he called that โ€œwishful thinkingโ€.

Ollongren also had her doubts about stopping gas extraction. She was concerned not only about optimism about strengthening homes, but also about the greater dependence on Russian gas. By the way, it was no reason for her to get bothered by the Council of Ministers.

At the

time, Minister Wiebes charged his fellow ministers to assume 4,200 houses that no longer need to be strengthened. That would save 1.9 billion euros. โ€œBut that was very speculative. We had to investigate it better and it took time,โ€ says Ollongren.

Less technocratic

With the involvement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2019, there was a less technocratic approach to gas extraction problems with more attention for the people of Groningen, according to today‘s interrogations. Kuijpers described this as follows: โ€œWe should have thought earlier and more insidiously from the resident. You have to go into the area. You can read pieces and get emails, but then you can’t see what it does to peopleโ€.

Going into the area was one of the first things he did when his ministry took over the Economic Affairs reinforcement operation.

โ€œYou saw a kind of engineering approach,โ€ Ollongren said the technocratic approach. โ€œThis technical approach led to major inexplicable differences. It may be technically correct, but it was not humanly understandable.โ€

More than 20,000 houses still need to be inspected, and it is estimated that much more needs to be strengthened by the year 2028. Minister Ollongren said she believes that target date is realistic. Earlier this year, State Mines Supervision said that the pace would have to be three times faster.