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Calls for Dutch Parliamentary Inquiry into NAM Groningen Gas Extraction

An estimated 10,000 people marched during a rally against gas extraction in Groningen, Netherlands, earlier this month. Photograph: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad

Calls for Dutch Parliamentary Inquiry into Groningen Gas Extraction

Louis Hoeks • Economics & Politics

A parliamentary inquiry into the gas extraction in Groningen is flashing. The request for such an investigation by the opposition parties GroenLinks, SP and the Party for the Animals received insufficient support during a debate with Minister Wiebes (Economic Affairs and Climate, VVD) on Wednesday. In the longer term, there seems to be more enthusiasm for a survey.

‘If this is not a good time for a parliamentary inquiry, what is the moment? Everyone needs to know why things have happened, as they have happened, “said Frank Wassenberg (PvdD). There are many questions in the House about decisions of the previous government, especially about the pace at which gas extraction has been reduced.

A lot of time and energy

However, a majority in the House does not see anything in a parliamentary inquiry that is held in the short term. She fears that this distracts attention from the settlement of the earthquake damage. ‘We must first make maximum efforts to solve the problems’, said Carla Dik-Faber (ChristenUnie). ‘That will be a matter that will take a lot of time and energy. The Groningers do not benefit from this, ‘stated Rob Jetten (D66). The PvdA does not want a survey now.

There is more support for a study in the future. ‘The fact that a parliamentary inquiry has to be conducted on this subject once and for all is clear’, said Agnes Mulder of the coalition party CDA. Her party supported an earlier Wassenberg motion on this point. D66 also certainly does not exclude a survey ‘in the future’, Jetten told us when asked.

Under oath

A parliamentary inquiry is the most serious means that the House can use to carry out its controlling task. The hearings are public and witnesses are under oath. Over the past thirty years, the House of Representatives has conducted a parliamentary inquiry ten times, including the financial and administrative chaos of housing corporations (2013-2014) and the impact of the credit crisis on Dutch banks and insurers (2011-2012).

Such investigations are intended to determine who was responsible for matters that went wrong, but also to get a clear picture of the events and to develop better policy.

Ruthless decision

Last week Wiebes decided to follow the advice of the State Supervision of Mines (SSM) to reduce gas production in Groningen to 12 billion cubic meters per year. Former SSM director Jan de Jong said in an interview that the previous cabinet had taken a ‘relentless’ decision not to reduce gas production earlier.

De Jong already advised in 2012 to reduce gas production to 12 billion cubic meters. Production was then increased, to almost 54 billion cubic meters of gas in 2013. Wiebes stated on Wednesday that all recommendations from the SSM were implemented. He did admit, however, that the ‘with the knowledge of nowadays should have been different’, thereby referring to the pace at which gas extraction was reduced.

Work hard

Wiebes himself enjoys broad support in the House for the time being. Even outside the coalition, he was more than once complimented on Wednesday with his decisiveness. The minister not only decided to significantly reduce gas production, but also launched a new protocol for settling the earthquake damage. The government now reimburses the claims for earthquake damage in Groningen, and will recover the costs from the NAM.

The counter that handles the damage that arose after 31 March 2017 must be operational from 19 March. According to Wiebes, it is hard work to meet that deadline. “The sweat is in our hands.” Next month he comes with a letter with his vision on the reduction of gas use.

DUTCH SOURCE

‘The fact that a parliamentary inquiry has to be conducted on this subject once and for all is clear’

• CDA Member of Parliament Agnes Mulder

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