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Following the publication of the book Natural gas, risks and decisions and the upcoming parliamentary inquiry into gas extraction in Groningen, Sustainable Society & Knowledge Platform Leefbaar and Kansrijk Groningen held the webinar: 'Parliamentary Survey Gas Extraction Groningen' on Thursday 18 February.

A report of the webinar:

Three Groningen professors have made strong comments about the way in which the government deals with the earthquake problem. They did this in the webinar 'Parliamentary Survey Gas Extraction Groningen', organized by Sustainable Society and Kennisplatform Leefbaar and Kansrijk Groningen. The aim of this survey is to find the truth and to obtain explanatory insight into decision-making about natural gas extraction, damage settlement and reinforcement in Groningen. This should make it possible to form an opinion about the entire period and to draw lessons from this disaster in slow motion, in order to contribute to future prospects for Groningen and the development of future policy.

In March 2019, the House of Representatives decided that the heaviest parliamentary means, the survey, should be used for decision-making about natural gas extraction and its consequences for Groningen residents. The fact-finding investigation will start this month, the public hearings will start in June 2022 and the final report will be presented in 2023. The study zooms in on three periods: (1) the start of gas extraction after the discovery of the gas field in 1959, (2) the start of subsidence and earthquakes after the earthquake at Assen and (3) the period after the earthquake at Assen. Huizinge, including the phasing out of gas extraction, damage repair and reinforcement.

Solutions must be found now

“There is something structurally wrong with how the government deals with the individual interests of citizens,” says Prof. Dirk Jan Wolffram, professor of history of governance and politics in modern times. According to Wolffram, it is important that the survey produces sustainable guidelines regarding government responsibility and liability in the event of unforeseen damage caused by major infrastructure works. “Of course there are regular legal frameworks, but this involves complicated liability and long-term misery. Solutions must certainly be found now, even before the survey is completed,” says the professor.

It could have been handled better

According to Prof. Dr. Charles Vlek, emeritus professor of environmental psychology and decision-making, there is a missing question in the parliamentary inquiry research proposal: 'How could it all have been better handled from 1963? Vlek concludes: “Experts could have estimated as early as 2000 that further gas extraction in Groningen would lead to more and more earthquakes”. In his recent book Natural gas, risks and decisions, Vlek takes a closer look at the issues the survey is about if the earthquake problem is to be dealt with properly and sustainably.

Groningers should not expect too much

Prof. dr. Dr Herman Bröring, professor of administrative law, emphasizes that Groningen residents should not have high expectations of the survey. “It is true that their problems are the reason for the survey, but their solution is not the goal”. The professor adds: “The failure of the government, in other words hiding behind NAM, is central to the survey. Not the concrete problems of individual people”.

Bröring concludes: “If you go through the election programs for the upcoming elections, the recognition that the parliamentary inquiry implies is all the more important because the attention in The Hague for the Groningen affair has already declined sharply. Most parties in their election programs do not get any further than the remark that the problems in Groningen must be solved. Those election programs no longer express any urgency for 'Groningen'”.

The webinar can be viewed here.

Charles Vlek's presentation can be downloaded here.