Probe to see if energy firm at fault for earthquakes

A Dutch court ordered public prosecutors yesterday to probe whether a major energy company might be criminally responsible for a series of earthquakes triggered by gas production in the European Union’s biggest gas field.

The Arnhem-Leeuwarden court told prosecutors “to conduct a closer investigation into the destruction or damage to buildings which could have posed a life-threatening danger to others, committed by NAM between January 1, 1993 and April 14, 2015” in the northern Groningen province.

NAM, which is half-owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, has been extracting gas from the massive Groningen gas field since 1963. But the area has been plagued by a series of minor earthquakes that grew in number as gas extraction increased, causing major damage to homes, farm homesteads and historic buildings.

Local residents and environmental groups in 2015 laid a complaint against NAM but the Dutch public prosecutor’s service said there was no criminal case to investigate.

This prompted a second complaint, with the court finding yesterday that a full investigation into whether there had been any criminal liability “has been neglected.”

“A proper investigation must now first be conducted, after which a decision about whether to prosecute will be made,” the court added. NAM said it was “surprised by the verdict but that it will cooperate fully.”

After Norway, the Netherlands is western Europe’s second-largest gas producer and although falling, natural gas exports last year constituted 2 percent of the country’s total revenue.

But a number of tremors over recent years resulting from the collapse of empty underground pockets have caused major damage.

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