Groningen gas grilling

10 September 2015, News Wires – A Dutch court will hear challenges on Thursday to the government’s production plans for the Groningen gas field that are being contested due to concerns it has caused earthquakes in the northern province.

Groningen gas field

Groningen gas field (Photo: Upstream)

The field has become increasingly controversial as quakes linked to production became more frequent and stronger, causing up to €30 billion ($34 billion) in damage to local infrastructure.

A Council of State judge in The Hague will hear arguments from both sides, including 40 complainants spanning individuals, protest groups and local government, who are calling for production to be halted outright or curtailed much further.

Production has already been cut twice by Economics Minister Henk Kamp, from an initial 39.4 billion cubic metres for the year.

In February, after a censure from the country’s Safety Board, Kamp trimmed actual production to 33 Bcm, causing a regional price spike. In June, he ordered it cut further to 30 Bcm.

The national government, which has already seen its income from the field fall sharply, has argued it cannot cut further and still honour contracts to provide heating for millions of people in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

In April, a preliminary ruling by the court ordered a halt to gas production around Loppersum, the most earthquake-sensitive portion of Europe’s largest gas field.

Judge Thijs Drupsteen said at the time he was ordering the government’s approval of the extraction plan submitted by NAM, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, to be “partially suspended”.

In May, the same judge rejected a preliminary request to limit production around Eemskanal, another of the Groningen gas “clusters”.

Arguments are scheduled to last up to two days. No date has been set for a ruling, but a court official said it would likely come in late autumn.

Kamp is due to set 2016 production plans in January.

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