THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A mining watchdog advised the Dutch government Thursday to significantly reduce the amount of gas extracted from the Groningen region, saying a cut is necessary to lower the risk of damage from subsequent earthquakes.
The Dutch State Supervision of Mines urged the government to slash gas extractions this year from the maximum of 24 billion cubic meters (31.4 billion cubic yards) to 12 billion cubic meters (15.7 billion cubic yards.)
The advice is likely to be a determining factor in a decision expected soon from the government on the level of extraction allowed from the lucrative Groningen gas field, one of the world's largest natural gas reserves.
The Netherlands' minister for economic affairs and climate, Eric Wiebes, told reporters that the 12 billion cubic meters is now his goal.
"I plan to implement that advice as quickly as possible," Wiebes said without going into detail about how soon that target could be met. He is expected to outline his plan in late March.
Inspector General of Mines Theodor Kockelkoren made clear in his written recommendation that the decrease is needed.
"A major intervention is necessary in order to probably meet the safety standard and to reduce the risk of damage," he said.
Kockelkoren said there remain many uncertainties in linking production cuts to a drop in the frequency and intensity of quakes.
"We therefore choose to be on the conservative side," he said. "After all, it concerns the safety of the inhabitants of Groningen."
Thousands of homes have suffered significant damage in the region caused by hundreds of small quakes in recent years.
Research by the University of Groningen and local health authorities suggests that thousands of residents are suffering stress-related health problems attributable to the quakes.
But shutting off the gas is not as simple as it sounds. In another report published Thursday, gas network company Gasunie Transport Services said that to ensure security of supply in a country where almost all homes and many industries burn natural gas, the minimum production ceiling should be 14 billion cubic meters (18.3 billion cubic yards) in a warm year and as high as 27 billion cubic meters (35.3 billion cubic yards) in an extremely cold year.
The gas is extracted by a joint venture between Shell and ExxonMobil, which has to foot the bill for the damage caused by quakes.