a disaster in slow motion
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translation: Nicolette Marié
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latest update: December 21st 2015, 11:37 pm
This is the story of Shell and ExxonMobil in Groningen. About the exploitation of one of the largest gas fields in the world, the resulting quakes, the people living on top of the field, their homes and historical buildings slowly collapsing, dikes that are in danger, the perpetrators who are in control and refuse to take responsibility, and a government thirsting for money.
There are similarities between this gas extraction and fracking of gas.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY CONTAINS SOUND IN SOME PLACES
Groningen is a Dutch province situated in the North of the Netherlands, about 180 km East of Bremen.
The Groningen gas field is a gigantic natural gas field located near Slochteren in Groningen province. Discovered in 1959, it is the largest natural gas field in Europe and the tenth largest in the world.
The Groningen Gas Field makes a lot of money. From the moment you opened this page 0 seconds have passed and approx.
has been made with gas from Groningen. This equals roughly one million euro per hour.
Gas extraction causes subsidence and quakes. The number of quakes is increasing.
Houses, schools, offices and irreplaceable historical buildings like medieval churches are subsiding and slowly collapsing.
It is a disaster in slow motion.
90.000 150.000 [not clear how many] buildings need to be reinforced, more than 100 houses should be repaired immediately. Recently, a farm caved in.
Earthquakes as a result of gas extraction occur just below the surface of the earth. A shallow “gas quake” of 2 on the Richter scale has a lot more impact than a natural earthquake of the same magnitude 20 to 100 km deep.
Experts agree that the Richter scale does not do the situation in Groningen justice and only serves to trivialize the case.
Fracking also is related to these shallow quakes.
Since 1986 Groningen had about 1000 light but shallow earthquakes. The misery doesn't come out in one big, devastating blow, but is spread over 1,000 quakes.
Let's see how it all began.
In 1947 the NAM (“Dutch Oil Company”) is founded, on the occasion of the discovery of an oil field close to Schoonebeek (province of Drenthe).
Oil is being pumped out of the ground using pump jacks.
The Netherlands need more energy. The search goes on.
Pulsations induced by underground explosions indicate the presence of gas in the ground.
At the time, the NAM probably does not realise the symbolic nature of the footage of an induced quake nearby an historical building: an old windmill.
NAM = 50% Shell (and 50% ExxonMobil, in the background).
NAM's e-mail address: nam-communicatie@SHELL.com
And then, finally: the NAM discovers gas in Slochteren, under the land of Mr Boon, a farmer. Lots. Of. Gas.
Newspapers all over the world talk about a “gift from God”.
The mood is elated.
Everyone is rich, gas for everyone!
Through the years, more and more gas is found. The field seems to be an infinite source.
A fuddle of biblical proportions takes hold of the northerners. Salvation is in sight!
“The Lord has answered our prayers and pointed us to the natural gas under our feet. But first we need to build a harbour with jetties.”
Quote from: de Graanrepubliek by Frank Westerman
God’s gift should be consumed as fast as possible, and Groningen needs derricks, lots of them.
Background footage: “Together, the government, Staatsmijnen, Shell and Esso will exploit this reservoir for the advancement of Dutch energy supply“
A distribution system is needed, and so, in 1963 the Gasunie is founded. Owners: the Dutch government (50%), Shell (25%) and Esso (now ExxonMobil) 25%.
Gasunie implements an elaborate transportation system, enabling almost everyone in the Netherlands to use natural gas.
In one big operation almost every household is technically prepared for the transition to gas.
Men & Machines circle above the land of law-abiding farmers who have no idea what is going on. Their land is being destroyed. The gas beneath is silently removed.
Thanks to a very handy Napoleonic law dating back to 1810, the government is entitled to the gas, not the land owners.
Even worse: while the rest of the Netherlands is linked to the gas distribution system, the land owners are not, because this would not be “profitable”:
Lady living on top of the gas bubble: “They didn't ask us if we would like to have access to the gas. Because we were not profitable. It simply was too expensive.”
In summary: the gas is confiscated from the land owners, then pumped from the earth, and they don't even get access to the gas because it costs too much to hook them up.
How different it could have been. In other parts of the world they would have been millionaires.
However, there is one person who warns of possible calamities: Willem “Concrete” Meiborg.
He is ridiculed by the NAM.
At the control centre, monitors show footage from cameras covering the entire site of each well. What strikes most is the absence of any operators whatsoever. Whenever maintenance people need to enter the gated site, they too are followed by the cameras. The gate is opened in time, using remote access control.
NAM drilling sites are abandoned places that are being watched from a distance via cameras. They generate very little employment.
The oil crisis strikes and nuclear energy is not as safe as everybody thought.
Instead of encouraging everyone to use as much gas as possible, people are now admonished to be careful and save energy.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands is suffering from the ‘Dutch Disease’:
Turn the pages of the book by dragging a corner.
The story of the lazy cricket singing lullabies in The Hague and the thrifty ant busying itself in Groningen.
Well, sort of, because the ant did not give anything to the cricket, but Groningen did give a lot to The Hague.
“You sang, did you? That’s nice. Now dance,” said the ant. “Dancing keeps you warm as well.”
The cricket had sung her song – all summer long
but found her victuals too few
when the north wind blew.
Nowhere could she espy
a single morsel of worm or fly.
Her neighbor, the ant, might,
she thought, help her in her plight,
and she begged her for a little grain
till summer would come back again.
“By next August I’ll repay both
Interest and principal; animal’s oath.”
Now, the ant may have a fault or two
But lending is not something she will do.
She asked what the cricket did in summer.
“By night and day, to any comer
I sang whenever I had the chance.”
A family in Slochteren feels their farm trembling but has no idea where that comes from.
Not a spectacular story, nothing collapses, no casualties, but the first “gas quake” in a series, that in the end might destroy the farm.
Meent van der Sluis, geographer, is sure this will not be the last quake.
The NAM brushes Van der Sluis off, just like Willem Meiborg 20 years earlier, calling him an ‘amateur’:
image: Sake Elzinga
Geographer From Assen Links Earthquakes To Gas Extraction
Assen, Tuesday. Geographer drs. M. van der Sluis is convinced that the unexpected earthquake hitting Assen on Boxing Day is the result of the pumping of gas from the natural gas field in Slochteren.
“We’ve never had earthquakes before in the North. And the gas extraction near Slochteren is the only important change in the subsurface in the past couple of hundred years. Therefore, it is very likely that gas extraction has everything to do with the earthquake, and there is a good chance that more quakes will follow.”
Van der Sluis, environmentology teacher at a college in Groningen, wants independent researchers to study the link between gas extraction and earthquakes, because the NAM is biased. The teacher worries about the stability of the salt domes in Groningen and Drenthe, which the NAM intends to use as natural gas storage. “Gas extraction activates the fault lines, which in turn disturbs the domes.”
Spokesman F. Duut of the NAM doesn’t want to respond to such “nonsense”. “This definitely is a fairy tale.”
The NAM reluctantly admits that earthquakes as a result of gas exploitation theoretically are possible.
The influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says quakes up to 3 (Richter) are possible.
In a radio documentary aired in 2014 it is stated that houses started to subside as early as 1991.
The “Begeleidingscommissie Onderzoek Aardbevingen” (governmental body) reaches the conclusion that earthquakes can, “under certain circumstances”, be induced by gas extraction.
The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) makes a bold statement: “The earthquakes are probably caused by gas extraction”.
The KNMI takes it up a notch: The relation between gas extraction and earthquakes is “not coincidental”.
Meent van der Sluis says the NAM is stalling.
(It is now almost 20 years later, and the NAM is still stalling.)
2nd big quake, in Roswinkel, 3.4 Richter scale / 3 km depth
3rd big quake: triangle Middelstum, Stedum, Westeremden, 3.5 Richter scale / 3 km depth
Luckily, the seismologists at the KNMI are not worried (sarcasm).
The KNMI expects slightly heavier earthquakes to occur, with a maximum magnitude of 3.8 on the Richter scale. But the seismologists are not worried.Video-fragment: RTV Noord
Quakes or no quakes: “Last year, the amount of gas sold abroad reached a record high.” (NOS, Dutch public broadcaster).
Sold abroad? Indeed, only a small percentage of the gas is used domestically.
Another earthquake in Groningen.
(Huizinge, 3.6 Richter scale / 3 km)
Also, the frequency of smaller quakes is increasing.
Research shows earthquakes are stronger when more gas is extracted. The NAM (= Shell / ExxonMobil) states that this is an acceptable risk.
The amount of gas extracted keeps growing.
We now realize that in 2013 ExxonMobil and Shell extracted twice the amount of gas than they agreed they would.
And then, Aldel, an aluminium smelter and a major employer in the Groningen region is declared bankrupt. The reason for this is, oh irony, that the gas used for electricity production is too expensive.
This is a turning point. Over the last two years, the number of quakes and the intensity of the quakes have increased. Houses are slowly collapsing and most of the profits from extraction have been invested in the Western part of the Netherlands. Finally, the people in Groningen do not take it any longer.
While the rest of the Netherlands has no clue whatsoever what is going on, the people in Groningen get angrier.
Mr. Kamp, Minister for Economic Affairs, pays a visit to Loppersum, the heart of the area. The mood isn't very cheerful:
Samsom (group leader of the Dutch labour party and vice-premier) also visits the North.
Northener: Together we stand? Where were you when we needed you? You've let us down.
Samsom: That is to say…
Early 2014, it is decided that Groningen shall receive 1.2 billion euros compensation. This may seem a lot, but it is probably barely enough to repair current property damages.
Let's put this number into perspective:
|turnover 2010||turnover 2011||turnover 2012||turnover 2013||Compensation|
Now, let’s compare compensation to total gas revenues
Left: total gas revenues; right: compensation:
|Total Gas Revenues (mostly spent in the West of the Netherlands)||Compensation (to be spent in Groningen)|
Compensation is a mere pittance compared to total gas revenues.
One of the finest Dutch traditions is activated: a so-called ‘dialogue table’, where all stakeholders come together. Through a dialectical and iterative process they will meet each other halfway – after which gas extraction will be business as usual.
The SodM (“State Supervision of Mines”) “ensures that mining activities and the transport of natural gas are performed in a socially responsible manner”. This governmental body is led by Jan W. De Jong, who is highly appreciated by all stakeholders because of his critical attitude.
Jan W. De Jong leaves the SodM.
[…]“Sources have told local broadcasting station RTV Noord that his criticism was the reason why De Jong was pressurised into leaving. The SodM states that this is absolute nonsense.
Ms Van Tongeren of the Dutch GreenLeft Party says De Jong deserves to retire, but will be sorely missed by the people in Groningen.
“He was an unimpeachable man with a backbone. No-one else has so much support in the region. It is difficult to accept that he is leaving just as the dialogue table commences and things are very fragile. Everyone was on speaking terms with him: the NAM, the government, environment groups, the people living in the region”
A New Chapter
Photomontage of the central square in the city of Groningen (Grote Markt), 1945. Added a drilling rig with flare.
On September 29th, the earth shakes close to Groningen city. With a population of approx. 200,000, this is the largest city in the North. Because of the population density and damages to a lot of important buildings, this earthquake is a game changer.
Two days later NAM has a new boss. And this boss is chums with the new boss at SodM (State Supervision of the Mines, the institution that needs to keep an eye on NAM). It turns out there are a lot of chums in this business:
Lots of connections. Elsewhere on this site you'll find an interactive version.
Contrary to what outsiders would like to believe, the situation only gets worse.
Currently, Groningen is confronted with a gas quake taking place in slow motion.
90.000 150.000 [not clear how many] buildings need to be reinforced. Buildings are demolished, people are forced to move out and a farmhouse has collapsed. Churches fall apart, which means no-one can go to mass, or attend a performance, like Bach's St Johns Passion. (The fragment you hear, is dedicated to Dutch King Willem Alexander: "Wir haben keinen König". Translation: “We don’t have a king”.)
In the rest of the country, people haven’t got a clue how big the impact of these induced earthquakes on safety and health of the residents is. As gas is indispensable, the gas production will be kept at the current level. A logical solution would be to focus on energy saving, but the Dutch government doesn’t take that option serious. The quakes are now taking place near Groningen city. They will continue to disrupt the lives of tens of thousands of people for decades to come.
The government and the NAM are stalling with research after research.
And then a short note about the people living in Groningen… :
People in Groningen find it a tad difficult to draw a line. Natural gas is pumped up from under their ass bum, profits are syphoned off to Western Holland with its big cities, their properties are slowly collapsing, and yet they only mutter: “Gain drokte” (which roughly translates as “It's just a leg, I've got another one”.
Image research, editing, cutting, writing, historical research, and programming:
© 2014 Kor Dwarshuis – twitter.com/kordwarshuis