Earthquake fear ends Dutch gas boom
ZEERIJP, Netherlands — The Dutch are proud of the way they have created a country by fighting back the ocean — but when they started making their own earthquakes, it proved a step too far.
The tiny village of Zeerijp in the northern Netherlands looks ordinary on the surface, yet closer inspection reveals cracks in homes, schools and historic buildings.
A series of quakes caused by extractions at Europe’s biggest gas field in Groningen province culminated in a magnitude 3.4 tremor in January, the biggest for six years.
“Suddenly, I heard two huge noises, one after the other. Then it all began to shake,” said farmer Bert-Jan Huizing, 50, describing how he was working with his forklift truck when the tremor struck.
Facing a wave of public anger over the threat to life and limb, the Dutch government announced that all gas extraction from Groningen will end by 2030.
It was a major blow to a project that has benefitted from billions of euros in state funding thanks to gas export contracts, particularly with France and Germany.
The earthquakes are said to result from huge air pockets left underground by extraction.
A large fence surrounds the Leermens extraction site near Zeerijp, where activity has now stopped, but locals can still feel the earth move sometimes.
Hundreds of protesters recently spent the night in tents at the site to protest against the extractions.
Despite the announcement that the field will shut, more than 20 billion cubic meters of gas were still extracted this year. At its height in 2013, the figure was 53.9 billion cubic metres.
“2030 is still a long way off and we could have more earthquakes,” Huizing said.
The potato farmer, a father of four children, was working on the soil where his wife’s ancestors have toiled for 250 years.
Huizing, also a councilor and president of the local soccer club, is leading a project for a new village school after experts deemed the old building unsafe. Prefab buildings have been set up to temporarily house people whose roofs threatened to fall in whenever the next quake struck.
But not everything can be saved. The only bar in the village, closed up and ringed by