Parliamentary inquiry natural gas extraction Groningen

On February 9, 2021, the parliamentary inquiry committee natural gas extraction Groningen (parlementaire enquete commissie aardgaswinning Groningen, PEAG) was installed. A parliamentary inquiry is the most serious tool which the House of Representatives can employ to investigate the actions of the government and other parties. The parliamentary inquiry committee investigates the decision-making processes regarding gas extraction in Groningen and its consequences for the residents of Groningen, from the discovery of natural gas in the province in 1959 until the present day. The earthquakes, compensation of damages and the reinforcement operation will play an important role in the investigation. The main purpose of the parliamentary inquiry is to establish the truth: how were crucial decisions regarding gas extraction made and what interests played a role in the decision-making processes? Insight into these considerations can subsequently serve as input for judgements about the decision made and for drawing lessons for the future. 

 

The investigation and the results of the parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen will play an important role in the gas dossier, especially when the public hearings start in late June 2022. On this page we list the most important facts about the parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen to make them accessible for a wider audience. Among other sources, we draw on

available policy documents, parliamentary papers and websites, and refer to them for further information.*

Impact on the residents of Groningen

Will the parliamentary inquiry have consequences for the residents of Groningen? In a debate of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Economic Affairs and Climate (vaste Kamercommissie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat) on June 2, 2022, state secretary Vijlbrief addressed this question. In response to questions from members of the Lower House, the state secretary pledged to consider the consequences of the inquiry for residents. For example, and if necessary, additional psychological help can be offered to residents.


In February 2021, we organized a webinar on the parliamentary inquiry in collaboration with Sustainable Society. Among other things, this webinar considered the question of the impact of the parliamentary inquiry on residents. In this webinar, Prof. Dr. Charles Vlek (emeritus professor of environmental psychology and decision science), Prof. Dr. Dirk Jan Wolffram (professor of the history of government and politics in the modern era) and Prof. Dr. Herman Bröring (professor of administrative law) gave their views on the decision-making process in the gas extraction file and on the parliamentary inquiry. You can find a summary and recording of the webinar on our website.

* Please note that most of the sources are only available in Dutch.

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What is a parliamentary inquiry?

If the House of Representatives wants to conduct its own investigation to assess government policies, the House can set up a temporary committee to conduct a parliamentary inquiry. This procedure is stipulated in the Parliamentary Inquiry Act of 2008 (Pwe, 2008). A parliamentary inquiry is the most serious investigative tool that the House of Representatives can use. The inquiry is conducted by a temporary committee of members of the House of Representatives: a parliamentary inquiry committee. Over the past thirty years, 10 parliamentary inquiries have taken place, including the investigations into the Bijlmermeer air disaster (1998-1999), the fall of the Srebrenica enclave (2002-2003), and most recently, the investigation into the Fyra debacle (2013). 

 

The inquiry into the Childcare Allowance was a parliamentary interrogation. A parliamentary interrogation is a relatively new (and for the time being temporary) instrument of investigation for the House of Representatives. A parliamentary interrogation is of shorter duration than a parliamentary inquiry and focuses mainly on the (public) oral questioning of those involved. 

 

One of the most well-known methods of investigation of a parliamentary inquiry is the public examination of witnesses and experts. All witnesses and experts summoned by the committee are legally required to cooperate with the investigation. In addition, they are under oath during the public hearings.

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Parliamentary inquiry natural gas extraction groningen

On March 5, 2019, the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of a motion by House of Representatives member Tom van der Lee (Groenlinks) to establish a parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen. 

 

On September 2, 2020, the House of Representatives established the temporary committee on natural gas extraction in Groningen to conduct exploratory research and come up with a research design for the Committee of Inquiry. This was proposed by the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Economic Affairs and Climate. The temporary committee completed its task in January 2021. It presented the research proposal to the House of Representatives on February 4, 2021.

 

The Parliamentary Inquiry Committee was established on February 9, 2021. A chairman, Tom van der Lee (Groenlinks), and a vice-chairman, Judith Tielen (VVD), were elected. On February 11, the commission started its work.


In order to prevent the parliamentary inquiry from delaying the compensation of damages or the reinforcement operation, the start of the parliamentary inquiry was linked to the achievement of goals in both of these processes: the parliamentary inquiry committee would not start its assignment until the processes of damage compensations and reinforcement had been properly regulated by law and had got off to a good start. However, the intended amendment of the Temporary Act Groningen, which should provide the legal anchoring of the reinforcement, has still not been adopted by the Senate and has therefore not yet entered into force. Nevertheless, the parliamentary inquiry started in 2021.

2.1 Coposition of the committee

The parliamentary inquiry committee is appointed by the House of Representatives and consists of members of the House of Representatives. 

 

The temporary committee that worked on the research proposal for the parliamentary inquiry from September 2020 to January 2021 consisted of 8 members:

Tom van der Lee (GroenLinks, chair), Stieneke van der Graaf (ChristenUnie, vice-chair), Dennis Wiersma (VVD), Roy van Aalst (PVV), Anne Kuik (CDA), Tjeerd de Groot (D66), Peter Kwint (SP) and Kirsten van den Hul (PvdA).

 

The composition of the current parliamentary inquiry committee differs from that of the temporary committee. This is influenced by, among other things, the 2021 elections and shifts in function or portfolio of Members of Parliament. The current parliamentary inquiry committee consists of 7 members:

Tom van der Lee (Groenlinks, chair), Judith Tielen (VVD, vice-chair), Hülya Kat (D66), Anne Kuik (CDA), Barbara Kathmann (PvdA), Peter Kwint (SP) and Stieneke de Graaf (ChristenUnie). 

As Anne Kuik is on leave until 22 August 2022, she is replaced by Evert Jan Slootweg.

 

In addition to the committee members, a clerk is appointed, mr. M. Israel, who functions as the contact person of the committee and streamlines and signs official documents produced by the committee. A civil research staff is also established to support the committee in its research tasks. Finally, an external sounding board group has also been established to advise the committee on the methods, execution, and results of the inquiry.

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Question, demarcation and purpose

The central issue of the parliamentary inquiry can be broken down into two main questions:

- How did decision-making on natural gas extraction in Groningen, damage control and reinforcement proceed at crucial moments?

- What effects did this have, what interests and considerations played a role and how did decision-making  deal with the interests of the people of Groningen?

 

The research period covers a very large time span: from the discovery of natural gas in 1959 in Slochteren until the present. 

 

The Van der Lee motion and the investigation proposal by the temporary committee state that the end point of the investigation period comes with the entering into force of the amendment to the Temporary Act Groningen . The website of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee does not mention this limitation of the period of investigation. The intended amendment of the Temporary Act Groningen  is currently still under discussion. How this will affect the investigation period of the parliamentary inquiry is not clear at this time. 

 

3.1 Research questions and period


It is certain that both the question and the research period are extensive. Regarding the question, the research is somewhat delineated by focusing on crucial decisions. The research period can be divided into 3 periods: the period of "progressive gas extraction" (1959-1986), the period of ground subsidence and quakes (1986-2012) and the period "after the Huizinge earthquake" (2012-present) (see Figure 1). This is an exceptionally long survey period: no parliamentary survey in the past thirty years covered such a large time frame. 

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 Figure 1: Th separation in research periods (source: research proposal PEAG)

In the research proposal, the division into time periods leads to some questions that cover the entire period. These questions focus on the decision-making processes, the different actors involved, the roles these actors had and the information they had at their disposal:

  1. Broadly speaking, what happened during the period 1959-2021 with regard to natural gas extraction in Groningen and the associated risks? What are milestones and defining moments in the history of natural gas extraction in Groningen and why? What knowledge was available for whom at what time?

  2. How does the ‘Gas Edifice’ function? (The construction between NAM, Shell and the state on the distribution of benefits and burdens in gas extraction.) Which parties are involved in the Gas Edifice and what interests and considerations play a role? What decisions have been taken? What agreements have been made and how have they changed over time?

  3. What decisions did the government take about natural gas extraction in Groningen? How did these decisions come about, how was the House of Representatives informed and at what times did the House of Representatives have influence on the decision-making process?

  4. What were the roles of the government, the House of representatives, private parties, local authorities and local actors in the decision-making process? What were the consequences of their actions for the residents of Groningen? In what way were the residents of Groningen involved in the decision-making processes, what role did they play and how were their interests taken into account?

  5. What lessons can be drawn from the analysis of Groningen's natural gas extraction?

      (source: research proposal PEAG) (Translation Knowledge Platform)

 

In addition, the research proposal includes a number of sub-questions for each period that focus on the events within a particular period. These include questions about the establishment of the Gas Edifice; decisions about studies into earthquakes and subsidence when the first earthquakes occurred; considerations that played a role in the reduction of gas extraction; and the establishment of various administrative agreements about damage compensation and reinforcement. An overview of all the questions can be found in the research proposal and here on our own page.

3.2 Purpose

The purpose of the parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen has been formulated as follows:

The purpose of the investigation is to establish the truth and to obtain explanatory insight into the decision-making process regarding natural gas extraction, damage control and reinforcement in Groningen. This will allow for the formation of an opinion about the entire period and to draw lessons, thus contributing to the future prospects for Groningen and the development of future policy. (source: research proposal PEAG) (Translation Knowledge Platform)

Restoring the trust of the residents of Groningen in the government was an important motivation for the initiators of the parliamentary inquiry. In the research proposal, the temporary committee therefore pays attention to the restoration of trust. But, the committee states that the parliamentary inquiry alone will not be sufficient for the restoration of the trust of residents, more is needed for that. Therefore, while the temporary committee expresses the hope that finding the truth will contribute to recognition, it has not explicitly mentioned the restoration of trust as an objective.

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Method and schedule

The investigation for the parliamentary inquiry into natural gas extraction in Groningen began with the exploratory research of the temporary committee. In order to develop the research design, the committee studied relevant literature and previous (parliamentary) investigations. On 4 December 2020, the temporary committee paid a working visit to Groningen to talk to victims and stakeholders. The committee also held various technical briefings and discussions on the gas extraction dossier and on research methods: with those involved in Groningen; with those involved in previous parliamentary inquiries; and with scientists and researchers. The temporary committee also employed a reflection group with external experts to discuss a draft of the research proposal. A full list of all people whom the temporary committee spoke to is included in the appendix to the research proposal

 

With the installation of the parliamentary inquiry committee in February 2021, the investigation began, following the outline proposed by the temporary committee. The investigation has several phases (see Figure 2).

 

1. The parliamentary inquiry began in February 2021 with document research. For this purpose, the committee requested documents from the parties involved. These were not only the governments and NAM, but also civil society organizations. The Groninger Gasberaad, for example, had a considerable task in supplying all the documentation it had built up in recent years. The Committee was busy with the document research up to and including December 2021. 

 

2. From January through May 2022, closed preliminary interviews were held with stakeholders. These preliminary interviews were a continuation of the dossier investigation. The preliminary interviews gave the committee the opportunity to check insights from the document research and to explore them in greater depth. 

 

The closed interviews are a preparation for the public hearings. They help the Committee to determine which decisions, considerations or moments deserve particular attention during these interviews. During a closed preliminary interview, the witness or expert is not under oath. 

 

3. From late June through October 2022, the public hearings take place. During the public hearings, the inquiry committee questions experts and witnesses under oath. Witnesses and experts can be criminally prosecuted for perjury if they do not tell the truth.  Anyone who is called to a public interrogation is legally obliged to cooperate. 

 

The public hearings are the best known part of the parliamentary inquiry. The hearings can be followed live. They are often extensively reported in the press. Witnesses and experts are often questioned by the press after their hearing.

 

The first public hearings will take place from June 27 through July 1 2022. A schedule of these hearings as well as a link to follow the hearings via livestream can be found on the website of the parliamentary enquiry committee.

 

4. As of November 2022, the Committee of Inquiry expects to work on drafting the final report. It will take into account all the information gathered from the document research and the hearings. The committee aims to deliver the final report in February 2023, 2 years after its installation. 

 

5. After the final report has been presented to the House of Representatives, there will be a debate about the report in the House of Representatives. First, this is a debate with the parliamentary inquiry committee: the House of Representatives can ask the committee questions (in writing) and enter into a debate with the committee. This is followed by a debate between the House of Representatives and the government on the results of the parliamentary inquiry. 

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Figure 2: Schedule for the parliamentary inquiry (source: PEAG)

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Sources

The text contains hyperlinks to the webpages where relevant information can be found. In addition, we list some important sources below. 

 

Website of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee

Tweede Kamer (geen datum) Parlementaire enquêtecommissie aardgaswinning Groningen. Available online at <https://www.tweedekamer.nl/kamerleden_en_commissies/commissies/peag> [Last accessed 9 June 2022].

 

Research proposal of the temporary committee

Tijdelijk commissie aardgaswinning Groningen (2021) Onderzoeksvoorstel parlementaire enquête aardgaswinning Groningen. Available online at <https://www.tweedekamer.nl/sites/default/files/atoms/files/onderzoeksvoorstel_voor_een_parlementaire_enquete_over_de_aardgaswinning_in_groningen.pdf> [Last accessed 9 June 2022]


 

Motion by Van der Lee

Tweede Kamer (5 maart 2019) Gewijzigde motie van het lid Van der Lee c.s over parlementaire enquête inzake de gaswinning in Groningen, Kamerstuk 33529-559. Available online at https://www.tweedekamer.nl/kamerstukken/detail?id=2019Z04109&did=2019D08692 [Last accessed 9 June 2022].