On February 7th this year thousands of demonstrators joined a torchlight march in Groningen to protest against the damages that natural gas extraction is provoking in the northernmost province of the Netherlands. This happened after many inhabitants living close to the gas fields have experienced severe damages to their houses due to earthquakes caused by the fracking operations that the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) is performing in the area. Besides fearing for their lives, the homeowners of the area are experiencing considerable decreases in the value of their property. Moreover, many inhabitants also complained about the fact that the reimbursement that NAM gave out to compensate for the damage was extremely low compared to the value of the houses, as NAM was entitled to value the compensation themselves.
In the last few years, the government has surely reduced the extraction, with NAM being forced to cut personnel and decrease extraction to a limit of 24 billion cubic meters per year. But this is not enough for the inhabitants of the region, which of course would like to live in a land free of earthquakes and to invest in more renewable and clean energy. Nevertheless, despite the gas extraction reduction in the last months, earthquakes continue to happen and to increase in number. A research conducted by NAM itself showed that they were not caused by the gas extraction, but the ground is nonetheless still moving.
But unfortunately, completely shutting the “gas-faucet” would be quite difficult for the government. The Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (the Dutch statistics institute, CBS) estimated that in 2013 and 2014 gas extraction contributed to 9.8% and 6.4% of the government income. A complete shut-down would thus mean that the government would need to find this money somewhere else, meaning either budget cuts or hoping for a stronger GDP growth. Moreover, this would also mean that the Netherlands would be more dependent from other countries for what concerns energy, besides paying a higher cost for the gas given that they would have to import it.
For these reasons, the government has always been quite cautious about reducing the gas extraction. Given these multiple empty promises and small actions taken by the government, the northerners are losing trust in their politicians. This has partly contributed to the rise of parties like PVV in those areas, where Geert Wilders, the leader of the popular anti-establishment party, achieved great results in that area in the last elections, once a safe haven of the labour party PvDA.
What will happen in the future is uncertain, but Groningers will probably have to continue their fight, as president Mark Rutte won the elections again last month. As we could see in the past years in which he ruled, in his campaign and in his programme, he has never been quite specific on the environment but mostly vague, not showing any serious commitment on the issue.