‘When does it stop’

Gas extraction in the province of Groningen in the Netherlands has been causing multiple earthquakes in an area that had never witnessed a shake before. The responsible gas company, called the NAM, is in the light of question especially regarding acknowledgment of those extractions being the cause of earthquakes and compensating the damage.

By Karim Al Amin

The village of Loppersum is one of the areas widely affected by the problem of earthquakes. All around the village, locals and shopkeepers have had damage in their property ranging from cracks in walls and ceilings to complete inhabitability. Real estate business has also suffered because of these earthquakes since prices of houses in Groningen have dropped rapidly. Less and less people are interested in buying houses in that area of the Netherlands.

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Loppersum is one of the villages hard hit by the earthquake problem. (Photo: Karim Al Amin)

Tjalling Huisman, a reverend in Loppersum, described how people normally considered their money to be preserved in the value of house and how that has been greatly affected due to the earthquakes. The NAM, according to Huisman, has provided compensation to some people, “For some people it takes a long time before it is fixed, and for others it is very quick.” Huisman explained how people are afraid of how strong the next earthquake would be and have used wood and construction means to support their houses.  The problem is endlessly growing according to Huisman “There are not only small damages. Some people have big damages and they had to leave the house because it is not safe to stay there. It is hard for those people.”

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The local church at Loppersum has been damaged due to the earthquakes. (Photo: Karim Al Amin)

Damage to the local church

Not only did the earthquakes affect houses and shops, but also the church of Loppersum. Petrus en Pauluskerk church is of great historic value being one of the largest village churches in Groningen and built in the 13th century. Murals dated back to 1490s have been damaged. Cracks have formed through them in multiple places due to the ongoing shakes. “The walls were a little damaged but most of the damage was in the paintings” Bertus Huizing, caretaker of the church described. The NAM according to Huizing have looked around the church and estimated the damage in the building and the walls by 200,000 euros. “We are afraid of course of another earthquake when we will have more damage to the paintings. We have to wait and see” he concluded.

The NAM has been accused by many locals in being unfair and not repaying the proper amount. That has caused many locals to distrust the NAM and peg it as a rich company looking for profit regardless of what the extractions are doing to the lives of people living close to the extraction sites. Recently, the NAM decided to form its own team of experts to go check on houses and assess damage. The NAM refused to comment on any of the accusations or about future plans.

Role of the municipality

The municipality of Loppersum plays a mediative role in this according to Jinko Rots, mayor’s spokesman. “There is a quite small team working to receive complaints from citizens as part of the earthquake project.”

 

 

“There is now an agreement in which the NAM has taken responsibility to do right to the people who have damage” said Rots. There’s little that such a small municipality could do especially when it comes to real estate “It is particularly hard on the housing market and here the uncertainty has a great effect too. The role of the municipality is limited financially because we don’t have financial ability to buy houses or things like that. As part of the whole agreement made between the state and the NAM, people who are in a big psychological problem because of the earthquakes. For these cases there is money from the NAM who buys their house.” The role of the municipality is to receive those people and send them to the independent committee which judges those cases.  “There are 9 municipalities which are in the center of the earthquake area and there are meetings between the mayors to discuss of cooperating to face the problems.”

A dialogue table has been recently formed to discuss this issue and form a communication line between the NAM and the citizens. The table includes the mayor of Loppersum, union of Groningen villages, some citizens, and the NAM to discuss all issues around the earthquake problem.

“The whole house shook and the children were running out” said Jetty Vink, a clothes shop owner at Loppersum, about the earthquake. “The NAM have been to our house and have promised to fix all the cracks and damages” she added.

The WAG foundation

As a response to the problems the people have faced and the lack of acknowledgement from the NAM, a foundation named WAG has been formed to protect the rights of citizens and lead the lawsuit against the NAM. Pieter Huitema, a lawyer at De Haan Advocaten, talked about the WAG. “It started when a landlord company noticed the problem and asked us if they have a chance for a lawsuit. We studied this problem and decided that they do have point. At the same time there were civilians who had the same problems and asked us to represent them against the NAM. After that it went very fast.” Regarding the response of the NAM to it Huitema said “At the beginning we only wanted to talk to the NAM about the problem so that they would acknowledge the problem, but they didn’t. After a few months we started the court action and they have responded by the court but they still acknowledge that they are responsible for this type of damage”. Another problem that is being studied by WAG to be added to the lawsuit is the psychological effect of such earthquakes. Huitema added.

 


Ger Warink, owner of a music shop in Loppersum, has already lost a house due to the earthquakes. “The house was going apart and I didn’t have a clue what it was. They never gave me the money to restore it so it had to be torn down. With the knowledge I have now I know that I could have sued the NAM” said Warink. His current house is also being further damaged with every shake. He remembered how the response of the NAM was not according to his expectations and their willingness to repay only 20% of the damage was not what he aspired to.  “They said the house is 100 years old and could be there for 150 years and due to the shakes that can be shortened by 25 years.  So that’s what they paid me and I had to deal with it.” Warink talked more about the shakes and how their depth and not their magnitude is the problem.  “What’s there to repair if it’s still going on? I am going to get the third repair now and every time the building is getting worse because the cracks are reaching the foundation as well.”

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The damage ranges from cracks in the walls to complete inhabitability of the houses. (Photo: Karim Al Amin)

In January, hundreds of angry citizens demonstrated in front of the NAM headquarters asking for a fair treatment and compensation. Warink, as one of the damaged citizens, does not really agree with such action. “I am opposed to demonstrations. I want to talk to the NAM and that’s what should work.”

Groningen Earthquakes
Earthquakes that have been recorded in the province of Groningen since January 1, 2014 (Source: Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute)

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Fact Box:

    • The Groningen gas field, located near Slochteren in the province, was discovered in 1959. It contains the largest reserve of natural gas in Europe and the 10th largest in the world.
    • The field contains 2.8 trillion cubic meters gas reserves in the porous Rotliegend sandstone formation.
    • The earthquake problems have affected
    • Loppersum is a village located 22 km north-east of the city of Groningen.
    • The first earthquake that hit Loppersum happened in 1993 with a magnitude of 0.8 and depth of 3.0
    • The strongest recorded earthquake marked 3.2 in magnitude and 2.3 in depth.

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