Dutch gas field hit by 3.4 quake, largest since 2012

2018-01-08 22:24
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The Hague - A 3.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the northern Dutch province of Groningen on Monday, the biggest since 2012 following a series of tremors blamed on extraction in Europe's biggest gas field.

Residents said the ground shook just before 15:00pm, and the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI) confirmed the quake was generated some three kilometres below the surface at the small village of Zeerijp.

"Our office shook. Shaking in my chair. Strange earthquake," tweeted one witness, who identified herself only as Esther.

"We've just had an earthquake, really felt it here this time!" another witness Aniek responded in another tweet.

Northern Groningen, which houses the European Union's largest gas field, has been plagued by a raft of tremors which increased as gas production rose in the region from the 1990s.

The relatively low magnitude quakes are described as resulting from huge air pockets left underground because of gas extraction.

Angry residents say they are bearing the brunt of repetitive tremors that have damaged homes, farms and historical buildings.

Early indications showed no major damage after Monday's quake, the NOS public broadcaster reported.

The strongest-ever quake in Groningen due to gas extraction was registered at 3.6-magnitude and hit the area in 2012, the KNMI said. That followed a 3.5 quake in 2006. But minor quakes -- including five in Zeerijp village last month -- have continued to shake the region.

"Last year a total of 18 quakes measuring a 1.5-magnitude or higher were measured in the Groningen gas field," the KNMI added in a statement.

The highest Dutch court in November threw out government plans to cap extraction in the Groningen gas field after residents and environmentalists took the government to court to demand a complete shutdown.

Judges gave the cabinet a year to come up with new proposals, even though gas production has been dramatically scaled back from 53.9 billion cubic metres in 2013.

The government said in April that output would be further cut to 21.6 billion cubic metres.

NAM, the energy company responsible for the gas extraction, is half-owned by Shell and ExxonMobil and has been extracting gas from the massive Groningen field since 1963.

The new coalition government, inaugurated in October, has vowed to keep the issue of the earthquakes "high on the agenda" and to ensure the "guiding principle is safety first".

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