Mar 05, 2023 News
– were hell-bent on securing lucrative profits despite health, environmental risks to thousands of citizens
Kaieteur News – How far will oil companies go for mega-profits? Would they risk the lives of innocent men, women, and children? A recent report by a parliamentary committee in the Netherlands provides profound insight into these questions and perhaps, a cautionary tale for Guyana.
The report exposed that Shell and ExxonMobil were so hungry, so blinded by their love for profit, that they ignored numerous warnings that their efforts to extract gas in Groningen province in the north-eastern part of the Netherlands was directly linked to the increasing onset of earthquakes. Also alarming is the fact that the Dutch government was complicit in the actions of the oil companies. Authorities were bewildered by the tsunami of revenues and stayed silent.
Most could easily understand why Shell and Exxon were obsessed with the Groningen gas field and the fortune that came. With an estimated 2.7 billion cubic metres of recoverable natural gas, it is the largest natural gas field in Europe and one of the largest in the world.
The gas field was discovered in 1959 and joint exploitation was led by the government, Shell, and Exxon Mobil through a vehicle called NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij).
Sixty years of gas extraction in Groningen brought the Netherlands considerable prosperity. In fact, Shell, ExxonMobil and the Dutch government earned €429bn from exploiting the Groningen gas field. But that came at a cost to the citizens.
As a result of those operations, and in defiance of warning signs, there have been almost 1,600 earthquakes in Groningen, and every month sees new quakes added to this number. Up to the end of 2022, there have been more than 267,000 reports of damage, of which 230,000 have been handled. Of these cases, 85,000 concerned more than one incidence of damage. The report states, “…Every new earthquake causes disquiet and fear in the people of Groningen. The days when this was only about ‘cups tinkling in the cabinet’ are long past. What is involved is the real concern about whether the baby can be put to bed upstairs safely in a home that used to be considered safe, but has since been declared unsafe.”
It continues, “It is the stress and the enormous mental threshold having to check the house for cracks again after the umpteenth quake– residents know how much effort and energy it costs to get the damage repaired. It is having to postpone decisions regarding whether or not to accept a new job because the house can’t be sold.”
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
The answer to the central question of how this situation could have come about lies in the fact that decision-makers cared not for the interest of the people.
The report states that the extraction of natural gas was so successful and so lucrative that the oil companies and authorities at the time were blind to the long-term risks.
Expounding on this front, the report notes that in 1993, the Netherlands’ Supervisory Committee of Research into Earthquakes (Begeleidingscommissie Onderzoek Aardbevingen, BOA) found that there was a correlation between gas extraction and earthquakes. The Committee said this could have been a reason to map out structurally and systematically what consequences gas extraction has and even bring an end to same. But this was not the case.
In early 2013, Dutch regulators emphatically stated in an opinion that, in order to safeguard the safety of the people of Groningen, production needs to be reduced as speedily as is realistically possible.
Despite the advice, it did not result in a single initiative to reduce gas extraction as a precaution – not even slightly. Likewise, neither the 2015 report of the Dutch Safety Board nor impassioned marches in Groningen in 2016, 2017, and 2018, in which thousands of the people of Groningen actively vented their concerns about the gas extraction, were considered reasons for responsible action in the interest of the people.
Kaieteur News understands that a combination of advisory reports by regulatory bodies such as the State Supervision of Mines, along with public pressure from the region and judgments from the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State is what eventually made the Dutch Cabinet decide to scale down gas extraction gradually. It was this combination that forced the oil companies to finally lend consideration to the interest of the affected citizens.
According to the Committee, this could have been different if the concerns of the people of Groningen had been attended to from the beginning. The report said the gas extraction in Groningen has proved to be “an unprecedented system failure by the public as well as private parties who failed in the execution of their duty.”
(More details on the report published this month can be accessed from this link: https://www.tweedekamer.nl/sites/default/files/2023-02/Groningers-before-gas_conclusions-and-recommendations.pdf)
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