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Groningen Earthquake Machinations

The government squeezed the NAM out of the claims settlement, because of the great dissatisfaction among the people in Groningen. Something else had to be rigged…

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad. NAM is the Shell/Exxon Joint Venture company responsible for the earthquake blighted Groningen Gas Field and consequential potential bill for untold billions to deal with damaged residences.

‘Groningers who live in a container at the back of their yard, that’s a lot of noise’

Bruno van Ravels received the call on Friday, March 2, at home in Breda. On the line are boss at the Council of State: Bart Jan van Ettekoven, chairman of the administrative law department of the Council of State. ‘This is important. They want you to become the chairman of the Temporary Committee Mining Damage Groningen. ‘

‘She’, that hit the cabinet. Earthquakes in Groningen are discussed at the highest level: it was Prime Minister Mark Rutte who had called Van Ettekoven, asking him if he wanted Van Ravel’s wrists. The choice fell on Van Ravels because he is a lawyer, state council in the Administrative Law Division of the Council of State, and also former chairman of the committee who dealt with complaints about Schiphol. He also bent over the Betuweroute and the North-South line. His specialism: liability of the government.

Van Ravels did not get much time for reflection. The Groningen file was, and is, under enormous pressure. He already received a text message from The Hague in the weekend. That Monday he sat in the mornings in consultation with Sander Dekker, the Minister for Legal Protection. Van Ravels said yes during the day. He, man with a soft g, would go to Groningen, the province of the loud sounds.

Van Ravels’ appointment was announced on 9 March. On March 19 was his first working day. He is there for a maximum of one year. The government squeezed the NAM out of the claims settlement, because of the great dissatisfaction among the people in Groningen. Something else had to be rigged – hence the Temporary Committee. Van Ravels is ‘quartermaster’.

What is special about the temporary committee is that it operates independently of the NAM. Van Ravels: ‘We have all kinds of measures to ensure impartiality’. Coming spring – after the second half of the year – the Independent Institute for Mining Damage must have been set up and Van Ravels’ job will be done. In an interview with the FD, he explains how his committee deals with claims for compensation.

Bruno van Ravels, chairman Temporary Committee Mining Damage Groningen picture: Corné Sparidaens

Is your work falling or is it disappointing?

‘Our mission is: generous, just, independent, energetic, and also with the human dimension, to tackle the damage. Those things do not all point in the same direction. Sustainability is the most important problem. ”

What was that about?

“We did not have enough experts. If someone reports damage to the Temporary Committee, they will receive an independent and impartial expert. Such a person may not be employed by us. That’s really important. There must be no objective doubt about independence and impartiality. ‘

And those experts are hard to find?

‘NAM and Centrum Veilig Wonen, CVW, have processed claims but were not independent. Only: what if you were not employed by NAM? So, for example, on behalf of the NAM had included damages? May you also work for the Temporary Committee? These are all things that we have looked at. ”

‘Our decision: someone who has assessed damage to NAM is not allowed to give us advice for a year. Someone who has taken damage before the NAM can not give us advice for half a year. Someone can not return to the object he was also involved in when he worked for the NAM. We have all kinds of measures to ensure impartiality. ‘

And also the expertise is difficult?

‘A good techie is not yet a good lawyer. If there is a crack in a wall, next to a railway line and a highway in the earthquake area, a techie wants to look at all the causes. Here in Groningen the legal evidence presumption applies. For a lawyer, the possibility that such a crack is caused by earthquakes is sufficient. The problem of multi-causality is not our problem then. ”

And yet you have found new people. How does such a search go?

“This is about such large amounts that you have to put the European contract out. Eventually we found four companies, each with fifteen people, who go to the meadow for us. At least sixty experts to handle the damage. ‘

European tender: so it could have been that Usquert or Fraamklap experts had come to speak Greek or Portuguese?

‘In theory. The conditions stated that the experts should be able to speak Dutch. ‘ He laughs: ‘And preferably Gronings.’

The Groninger Gasberaad said in early September that more experts were not yet the solution. The Temporary Committee should adjust its working method. Standardization is also suggested.

“That’s a logical idea. Only: in practice we notice that it does not work that way. It is about safety and the certainty that it is properly assessed. People still want an expert to come along. ‘

You suggested that the Temporary Committee should look at insurers.

‘Yes. Do they have methods or capacity, can we learn from them? Only insurers have no capacity left. And with insurers you pay a premium and if you get tired of everything, your premium goes up or you get blacklisted. That does not work, here in the earthquake area. ”

Have you been to the area a lot?

‘Regularly. I have been at home with people. In Garrelsweer for example, with people who lived in a monumental farm and now in a container at the back of their yard. That’s tough. ”

There is a reservoir of damage and when the ground starts to tremble it becomes more. Will the damages ever be dealt with?

“In terms of pace, we are still far from where we need to be. With the experts that are now coming, I think that the reservoir can be run into. And of course I knew that this job would be difficult. But so difficult that we will not do it? That is not an option. ‘

Create tempo

The Temporary Committee Mining Damage Groningen reported Friday it attracted sixty independent experts who in the province are going to look at damage to homes. This doubled the number of experts.

The commission has so far taken 1139 decisions and paid € 3.2 million. In the event of more than 90% of the damage report, mining damage is determined and compensation is paid. Every week an average of 150 new damage reports are made and approximately the same number of decisions are taken. The Temporary Committee wants to increase the number of decisions after 1 December.

There are still about 18,000 damage waiting to be dealt with. The difficulty is that the Temporary Committee, precisely in order to speed up, initially focused on the relatively simple damage. In the longer term, the increasingly complex and thus long lasting damage will come into the picture, which is less easy to solve.



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