Dutch to close gas field hit by earthquakes despite energy crisis
Alex Cadier, FSN

The Dutch government has doubled down on its commitment to close Europe's largest natural gas field, the Groningen gas field, despite skepticism from local residents and opposition from energy experts. 

The Groningen field has been a vital source of natural gas and income for the Netherlands since the 1960s. But earthquakes and tremors linked to gas extraction in the field have been a source of stress and misery for local residents, prompting the Dutch government to announce that the field would be shut down by the end of 2024.

The move comes as Europe is scrambling to replace Russian fossil fuels following Moscow's conflict with Ukraine, and European governments are funding massive public support measures to help households and businesses with skyrocketing energy bills. 

In fact, in late September, the Dutch government announced a $16 billion package of energy cost support measures. $13.5 billion, or 84 percent of that spending, came from Groningen gas field income. 

"I know it's difficult to understand that a country like the Netherlands that has natural gas, doesn't want to step in - but you have to understand what the people have endured in Groningen and are still enduring up until today," said Sandra Beckerman, Dutch parliamentarian and member of the Dutch parliament inquiry into gas extraction in Groningen. 

"People are still living in damaged and unsafe houses and have seen a government that wasn't there for them when they needed it the most."

Local residents in and around Groningen have been dealing with the fall-out of tremors and earthquakes for decades - 1,470 earthquakes were recorded from 1986 to 2018. 

"You lose grip on your situation - your house devalues, you get into a lot of stress, it affects the children," said Hans Sulmann, a local resident whose house is set to be torn down and rebuilt by the government.

"I see that with my kid as well, I have a 14-year-old daughter who is in serious mental distress at this moment. That's what our government basically does to people living in this area."

Sulmann has been waiting for nearly 10 years for his situation to be resolved. In 2013 he was told his house would be subject to an inspection. This inspection took place three years later. Another four years passed before Sulmann received the inspection results declaring his house was structurally unsound and needed to be torn down and rebuilt, like so many in his village of Loppersum. 


As of October 2022, the government-funded work on his house had not started. 

Down the road, Ger Warink lived above the music shop he bought in the 1990s. Once again, earthquakes means the building's structural walls are failing, floors are uneven and doors don't shut properly. With the building not fit for occupation, Warink has had to move his business to two separate temporary venues, moves he says hurt his business. 

"Because we moved one from place to another, and then another, you lose your customers because people are not going to find you anymore," Warink said. "They extracted $425 billion from the soil around here and less than 1 percent was returned to the local area. On a bad day, I feel like we're living in Siberia."

Warink is skeptical about the government's claims regarding the field's closure. 

Groningen's natural gas field has been plagued by earthquakes and tremors./ AFP
Groningen's natural gas field has been plagued by earthquakes and tremors./ AFP

Groningen's natural gas field has been plagued by earthquakes and tremors./ AFP

Despite decades of struggles for local residents, experts warn that a permanent closure of the gas field could be premature and a regrettable missed opportunity.

"I think it's a great shame, but for a reason that's not often stated," said Roland Kupers, an advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the former head of Shell's LNG business. "I think the Groningen field can play an enormous role in enabling the European energy transition and losing that opportunity is very damaging to the climate."

Kupers added that the Groningen field could also be a game-changer for Europe's energy crisis, saying the field could supply up to 15 percent of the continent's total needs. 

"Europe wants to get out of fossil fuels rapidly, so the Groningen gas field provides the opportunity to provide a short term bridge. So if the field was open for four years, along with a vastly accelerated program to build wind and solar power in Europe, then the field could be closed down."

While the Dutch government has said extraction in Groningen can still be ramped back up for emergencies, such as if hospitals were to run out of gas or electricity, it seems that for now, local concerns over decades have taken precedence over Europe's international energy crisis. 

Search Trends