Shell, ExxonMobil and the Dutch government earned €429bn from exploiting the Groningen gasfield, but left thousands of residents with cracked homes and health issues, a parliamentary investigation has found.
The geological destabilisation caused by drilling at Groningen, Europe’s largest natural gas reserve, resulted in 1,594 earthquakes and damaged more than 85,000 buildings, a Dutch parliamentary report concluded on Friday.
The profits attributed to the two energy majors were €66bn while the biggest beneficiary of the extraction was the Dutch treasury, which earned €363bn in revenues over the past 60 years, it said.
“The state and companies earned a lot of money but they ignored signals that there was a causal relationship between gas extraction and earthquakes and when it was proved that this connection was there, they underestimated the severity of how bad these earthquakes were,” Tom van der Lee, a Green politician who led the probe, told the Financial Times.
“This is a slow onset disaster . . . the effects are quite large but because of the inability of our government to act on it, the people affected are waiting and waiting for years and you cannot move on with your life.”
Groningen does not sit on any tectonic rifts but the drilling has resulted in earthquakes of up to 3.9 on the Richter scale. At this level, they would normally be considered fairly mild tremors.
But owing to the nature of the extraction, the vibrations were much nearer the surface than natural quakes and so would have felt more like a magnitude of 5 or above — closer in equivalence to the tremors felt in Turkey in recent weeks.
More than 11,880 buildings have yet to be made safe, the report said.
Van der Lee said that €10bn had been spent on compensation to residents and efforts to shore up buildings but that for every €1 that had gone to residents, 70c had been spent on bureaucracy.
Residents have suffered insomnia and heart palpitations, while one research report noted that those who lived near the quakes were at risk of premature death.
Groningen is thought to contain about 450bn cubic metres of recoverable gas, almost three times what the EU was importing from Russia before its invasion of Ukraine.
The fall in Russian gas flows piled pressure on Dutch authorities to keep Groningen open as EU countries rushed to secure alternative supplies.
Despite this, in October the Netherlands capped production from Groningen at 2.8 bcm for the year — down from 42.5 bcm in 2014 — and said it would end extraction there this year. A decision on whether to extend production will be taken in June following a debate over the report’s conclusions.
Marjan van Loon, president-director of Shell Netherlands, said “Groningen residents bore a large part of the burden of gas production and saw only a small part of the benefits.”
She added that all parties “including Shell, did not listen carefully enough to the people of Groningen when they expressed their concerns about the damage to their homes and about the safety risks of gas production . . . we have important lessons to learn here”.
Exxon said it had “fully cooperated” with the inquiry and that it was “taking time to analyse the full report and it’s recommendations”. “We hope the report brings clarity for the Groningen region and its people.”
Hans Vijlbrief, the Dutch minister for mining, said: “The people of Groningen were always right about the consequences of gas extraction. Acknowledging the suffering inflicted on them is the most important thing today.”