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Dutch court orders criminal probe into gas field quakes

Dutch court orders criminal probe into gas field quakes

THE HAGUE: A Dutch court ordered public prosecutors Thursday to probe whether a major energy company may be criminally responsible for a series of earthquakes triggered by gas production in the EU’s biggest gas field.

The Arnhem-Leeuwarden court told prosecutors “to conduct a closer investigation into the destruction or damage to buildings which could have posed a life-threatening danger to others, committed by the NAM between January 1, 1993 and April 14, 2015” in the northern Groningen province.

The NAM, which is half-owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, has been extracting gas from the massive Groningen gas field since 1963.

But the area has been plagued by a series of minor earthquakes which grew in number as gas extraction increased, causing major damage to homes, farm homesteads and historic buildings.

Local residents and environmental groups in 2015 laid a complaint against NAM but the Dutch public prosecutor’s service said there was no criminal case to investigate.

This prompted a second complaint, with the court finding Thursday that a full investigation into whether there had been any criminal liability “has been neglected”.

“A proper investigation must now first be conducted, after which a decision about whether to prosecute will be made,” the court added in a statement.

NAM, in a separate statement, said it was “surprised by the verdict but that it will cooperate fully with the probe”.

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the NAM will be prosecuted. It depends on the outcome of the investigation,” it said.

The case comes after Dutch Economic Minister Henk Kamp announced Tuesday that gas production in Groningen will be cut back once again from 24 billion cubic metres to 21.6 billion cubic metres per year.—AFP

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