THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An independent report into natural gas drilling that has triggered a rash of small earthquakes in the northern Netherlands said Wednesday that energy companies and the government put production ahead of people's safety in their decision making.
The Dutch Safety Board reached the conclusion in a report prompted by dozens of small but damaging earthquakes caused by gas drilling that have rocked the northern province of Groningen for years, causing structural damage to thousands of buildings.
Companies and government bodies involved in drilling, including Shell, ExxonMobil and the Ministry for Economic Affairs, formed a "closed system" in which "security concerns in practice played an inferior role," the safety board said.
It added that they should now repair their relationship with locals in part by "acknowledging that until 2013 they did not take sufficient care with the security of citizens of Groningen."
As anger over the earthquakes increased in recent years, the government has cut back production in the worst-affected areas and is investigating further reductions — a move that would likely cost billions of euros in government revenues.
Last year, the government cut annual production to 42.5 billion cubic meters (55.6 billion cubic yards) and last month it scaled it back to 39.4 billion cubic meters (51.5 billion cubic yards).
"Many people in Groningen are suffering damage because of the earthquakes, no longer feel safe in their own homes and are seriously concerned," Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp said in a reaction to the report. "I am very conscious of the gravity of the problems and my responsibility to take necessary measures."
The Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), a 50-50 joint venture between Shell and ExxonMobil, is responsible for extracting gas from the vast underground reserves.
NAM said in a written response to the report that an earthquake that hit the village of Huizinga on Aug. 16, 2012, was a "turning point in the thinking and actions" of the company.
"Since then, NAM has invested a lot in research and measures to increase the security of inhabitants of Groningen," it said.