The Dutch are sounding the alarm for a new threat: earthquakes linked to Europe’s largest natural gas field.
The independent Dutch Safety Board has accused the government and the field’s operators, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil Corp, of ignoring the threat of earthquakes linked to the massive Groningen gas field for years. There are now questions about the future exploitation of the field that lies under the northern province of Groningen, with implications that reach well beyond its significance for Dutch state coffers. Lessons from Groningen, which lies far from any natural fault line, feed into a debate over the threat posed by hydraulic fracturing in the United States, China, Britain and elsewhere.
On August 16, 2012, an earthquake with its epicenter under the town of Huizinge marked the beginning of the end for aggressive output from Groningen. It registered 3.6 on the Richter scale, larger than any predicted by engineers at NAM, the joint venture field operator between Shell and Exxon. “Until the Huizinge earthquake, we had 1,100 damage claims in 20 years,” said NAM spokesman Sander van Rootselaar. “After the quake we had more than 30,000.” Earthquakes caused by gas production are usually small, unless they happen near a fault line and can trigger a larger natural quake. But in Groningen they occur close to the surface, damaging stone and brick buildings never designed to withstand shaking.
More claims are rolling in, including after a 2.6 quake registered in the town of Appingedam last week. But safety is the bigger issue. In January 2013, the regulatory agency tasked with overseeing gas production warned the government of a “linear relationship” between the rate of production and the chance of earthquakes at Groningen. It said it could not rule out quakes measuring 4 or even 5 on the Richter scale, with risk to human life. The State Supervision of Mines advised production be cut “as quickly and as much as is possible and realistic.” But that year, with the Dutch economy in recession, the Groningen field produced 53.4 bcm, its most in decades. “In 2013, when it was very cold in Europe, there was enough gas in Groningen to really run it hard,” said Thomson Reuters Point Carbon analyst Oliver Sanderson. The earthquakes continued.
With bans on fracking in several European countries already in place, the concern about earthquakes will give gas opponents further ammunition. Public attitudes against gas production have quickly hardened in the Netherlands. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/international/bells-toll-for-europe-s-l/1688000.html?
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