Energy and earthquakes caused by gas production in the Netherlands

The extraction of natural gas from the Groningen field in the North of the Netherlands is causing earthquakes which have damaged thousands of houses and buildings. The gas extraction by the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (Dutch Petroleum Society, in short: NAM) is therefore getting increasingly controversial.

At Co2ntramine we’ve been covering and researching this issue for years now and published hundreds of articles about it in Dutch. Because of growing interest from all over the world, we’ve made this overview of the situation with the main facts and figures about earthquakes caused by gas production in The Netherlands.

A big number of civilian initiatives from the province of Groningen has, on the 15th of February, called for parliament to act. They want:

  1. That the problems caused by gas extraction are getting solved as soon as possible;
  2. That a responsible time schedule will be made that will enter into force in 2018 that makes clear to everyone involved when and how the gas extraction will be reduced;
  3. That the NAM won’t play a part anymore in any claim processing in relation to the damage which they caused;
  4. That Groningen will become a frontrunner region in the transition towards sustainable energy.

The Dutch Parliament has subsequently made the following decisions on the h twenty first of February in 2017:

  1. The gas extraction should be further reduced;
  2. The NAM can’t play a part in processing the damage claims anymore;
  3. A buy-out scheme should be made for everyone wanting to leave the earthquake area;
  4. The trust of the people of Groningen should be restored.

The natural gas extraction in Groningen is high on the political agenda after the earthquake in Huizinge in August 2012, which was the strongest earthquake up till now with a force of 3,6 on the Richter scale. The Staatstoezicht op de Mijnen (State supervision on mining, in short: SodM) stated in 2013 that with an annual gas extraction of 12 billion cubic metres the chance of earthquakes hitting the area that can be felt by the people in the region will decline to almost zero. However, during this time the annual gas extraction rose from 48 billion m3 in 2011 to 54 billion m3 in 2013 and only started to decline, to 27 billion m3, after the highest court in the Netherlands made that decision on the 18th of November 2015. Prime minister Rutte stated on 7 March 2017 that the government has halved the annual gas extraction. This statement is, therefore, false (the high court made that decision).

Additionally, the courthouse of the North of the Netherlands judged on the 1st of March 2017 that “the state has acted careless in the period from January 2013 until December 2015,” while “after the earthquake in Huizinge the minister was bound to reduce the gas extraction in the Groningen field to guarantee the people’s safety as much as possible. The state hasn’t done that, despite the fact that it was advised to do so.

The question is: how did we get into this? How much natural gas is there still in the Groningen field? Where do we use that gas for and how important is the gas field for the NAM and the government? Is the gas extraction safe enough and how many earthquakes did it cause? How much energy do we use and how much electricity? What is the role of sustainable energy? How much sun and wind do we need to raise enough sustainable energy? I will answer these question shortly in this article.

Table of contents:
The position of power of the NAM in the Netherlands
Natural gas revenues are 316 billion euro’s
What did the government spent the natural gas revenues on?
Natural gas extraction, a business in decline
Electricity for natural gas production
Almost 1100 earthquakes; compensation for damages 0,6% of the natural gas revenues
Safety first: 12 billion m3
The use of natural gas, saving energy, alternatives and export
The use of energy in the province of Groningen
The use of energy in the Netherlands
The use of energy in the Netherlands from 1950 till 2050
15 times the amount of wind and 83 times the amount of sun

The position of power of the NAM in the Netherlands

1. Shell wasn’t particularly happy with the discovery of the Groningen field in 1959: “Stay out of gas, you can’t earn any money with it,” was what they thought. Central heating of households and buildings with the use of gas was considered impossible by Shell. Nevertheless Shell, together with Esso (now ExxonMobil), did get a permit to extract the gas. They used their subsidiary the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), which was founded in 1947 for doing that. The oil companies wanted the general public to remain unaware that the government would be profiting from the extraction once it began. As such they created a complicated business structure which is called the gasgebouw (gas building) and where nowadays thousands of Groningen people get lost and stuck in.

The VVD (a party on the rightwing spectrum) and the precursors of the current CDA (a party on the rightwing spectrum with Christian values) all agreed on the decision to create the gas building. Within de PvdA (then an important leftwing party) there were voices discussing the nationalization of the gas extraction. Joop den Uyl, who was an important figure within the PvdA, said: “Nationalization would, in my opinion, be economical foolishness.” Subsequently he won the discussion in his party. With the PvdA joining the CDA and VVD, a broad political support was created in both government and parliament to give the power to decide over natural gas in the Netherlands to the NAM. The NAM doesn’t want to give this power position away, which seems logical: the political parties wanted it like this.

Natural gas revenues are 316 billion euro’s

2. The natural gas revenues are divided between the government and the NAM. 88% of the profits goes to the government and 12% goes to the NAM.

3. The government pays 64% of the expenses caused by earthquake damage straight from the gas revenues.

4. Until 2017, the total revenues of the natural gas extraction for the government was 288 billion euro’s. The total revenues for the NAM where approximately 28 billion euro’s. If we add these two figures we get a total amount of gas revenues of 316 billion euro’s .

Natural gas revenues in Groningen field and the small fields in the period between 2010 and 2017 in billion euros.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Annual gas revenues 10,65 11,9 14,3 15,4 10,4 6,4 3,75 2,6
From Groningen field 8 8,9 11,4 11,9 8,25 4,45    
From small fields 2,65 3 2,9 3,5 2,15 1,95    
Gas price (eurocents per cubic metre) 16,1 22,9 24 26 21,3 20 17 17

What did the government spent the natural gas revenues on?

5. We don’t know exactly where the money earned by the gas extraction was spent on. An exception to this is the period between 1995 en 2010. In those years 26 billion euro’s of the revenues were put in a fund (Fonds Economische Structuurversterking). The financial means in this fund were for 80% spent on infrastructural investment projects like major railroads such as the Betuwelijn and the Hogesnelheidslijn. For 18,5 billion euro’s of this fund the actual destination has been accounted for, the projects this money was spent on are:

Betuweroute: 4,7 billion
Accessibility project Randstad: 444,8 million
Beelden voor de Toekomst: 132 million
A2-tunnel Maastricht, investment from the fund: 70 million
Development Zuidas Amsterdam: 406 million
Kenniswijk Eindhoven: 45,4 million
Vier HSL-stations: 5,3 billion
Hubertustunnel: 27,4 million
Oosterscheldekering: 3,5 billion
Topinstituut Farma: 137 million
Ontsluiting Colmschate-Noord, Deventer: 11,3 million
Gigaport, investering uit aardgasbaten: 64 million
Information technology in education: 487 million
Milieukwaliteit Elektriciteitsproductie: 993 million
Innovation programme vmbo: 283 million
Sleutelprojecten HS: 1 billion
Kennis voor Klimaat: 50 million
Versterking Kennisinfrastructuur (Bsik): 802 million
Holst Centre: 40 million

Total 18.5 billion euro

It’s striking that all the physical projects this money was spent on are infrastructural projects outside of the Groningen area.

Natural gas extraction, a business in decline

6.Natural gas extraction in the Groningen field in billion cubic metres 2010-2021.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Annual gas revenues 10,65 11,9 14,3 15,4 10,4 6,4 3,75 2,6
From Groningen field 8 8,9 11,4 11,9 8,25 4,45    
From small fields 2,65 3 2,9 3,5 2,15 1,95    
Gas price (eurocents per cubic metre) 16,1 22,9 24 26 21,3 20 17 17

7. Minister Kamp of Economic Affairs stated in parliament on 15 February 2017 that the gas infrastructure in neighbouring countries is being adapted to the point that they don’t need gas from Groningen anymore. Furthermore, the government has “the ambition to uncouple an average of 200.000 households each year from the gas infrastructure until 2050.” As a result of this: “the need for gas from the Groningen field will decline by 2 billion m3 annually after the year 2020. This will continue until 2029. Then the demand for gas will be 7 billion m3 a year (…) and that will be the gas which is needed to meet the minimal supply criteria.

This information is presented in the following table, taking into account the minimal gas extraction and behind the plus signs what is needed during the first years during a fierce winter. It’s the question if we need this extra 6 billion m3 in the future, hence the question mark.

Planned gas extraction in the Groningen field in billion cubic metres 2020-2029.

Gasyear Gas extraction
2020/21 24 + 6
2021/22 22 + 6
2022/23 20 + 6
2023/24 18 + 6
2024/25 16 + ?
2025/26 14 + ?
2026/27 12 + ?
2027/28 10 + ?
2028/29 8 + ?
2029/30 7

8. Ever since the discovery of the gas field in Groningen in 1959 at least 3582 billion m3 of natural gas has been extracted in the Netherlands. According to the CBS (central statistics bureau) in 2016 the natural gas reserve consisted of 940 m3 in 2015, which means that almost 80% of the natural gas reserve has been extracted. Of this total amount, 680 m3 was still in the Groningen field, while 260 m3 was in the smaller gas fields. Next to the Groningen field there are 261 smaller gas fields of which 148 are located underneath the North Sea. In the year 2016 27,6 billion m3 was extracted from the Groningen field and 19,8 billion m3 was extracted from the smaller gas fields.

9. Gas from the Groningen field contains more nitrogen than gas from most of the smaller fields. Because of that, the gas from the Groningen field is called low calorific gas and gas from the smaller fields is called high calorific gas. As far as we know, there hasn’t been any research which relates the calorific level to the risk of earthquakes

10. By adding nitrogen to the gas from the smaller fields it’s possible to create the same type of gas from the Groningen field. This happens in nitrogen factories in Zuidbroek, Ommen, Wieringermeer en Pernis.

11. With continuation of the current annual minimal extraction of 24 billion m3 from the Groningen field and 20 billion m3 from the smaller fields, all the extractable gas in the Netherlands will be gone in 20 years (in 2037). For technical and economic reasons, not all the gas can be extracted. We don’t know how much of the gas will be left in ground for this reason.

12. The NAM stated in April 2016 that from 2020 onwards the last phase of the Groningen field will begin and the production will annually decline.

13. In an average year the total demand for low calorific gas is approximately 54 billion m3. According to minister Kamp this amount can be divided in the following way: The Netherlands uses 27 billion m3, Germany 17 billion m3 and Belgium and France use 10 billion m3 together. 24 billion m3 comes out of Groningen and the rest is high calorific gas which is converted into low calorific gas.

Electricity for natural gas production

14. The production of gas takes a lot of electricity. Compressors are needed to pump the gas from Groningen into the gas network. These compressors work on electricity. Nitrogen factories to convert the gas from the small fields to gas similar to the Groningen field also demand a lot of energy. The energy it takes to maintain the gas production in The Netherlands asks the same amount of electricity as 250.00 to 520.00 households do.

Almost 1100 earthquakes; compensation for damages 0,6% of the natural gas revenues

15. According to the NAM 1089 earthquakes were caused by the gas extraction in the Groningen field from 1990 until the beginning of March 2017.

16. From August 2012 until the beginning of March 2017 the NAM has accepted 73.242 damage reports from people in Groningen. That’s 16.000 each year. This raises the question: This raises the question: Which other company is allowed to annually damage for up to 16.000 different damages to houses?

17. According to the NAM more than 60% of the houses in the centre of the earthquake area were damaged. Up till now the NAM has bought up 70 houses. In 2016 the NAM acknowledged 104 houses to be too unsafe to live in. From August 2012 until the end of 2016 464 million euro’s has been spent on damages caused by earthquakes: 308 million euro’s to recover the damage and 157 million euro’s to make reports about the damages. Furthermore, the government has according to minister Kamp spend 478 million euro’s to increase the value of houses and to make the area more liveable. Taken together there has been almost a billion euro’s spend on the recovery of the earthquake area, that’s 0,3% of the total gas revenues up till now. Besides that, the NAM has spent almost a billion euro’s “on account of the problems caused by the gas extraction in Groningen.” According to a different source this figure is 1,192 billion euro’s, of which 156 million euro’s are costs to run the process. That’s another 0,3% of the total gas revenues. Taken together, the state and the NAM spent 0,6% of the total gas revenues on the recovery of the earthquake area.

18. There are 410.000 people living in the area were damage to houses is acknowledged as possibly earthquake damage.

Safety first: 12 billion m3 gas

19. The decision about the gas extraction level is unreliable. This decision is based on an advice from the State Supervision on Mining (SodM). The usability of the model that the NAM uses is according to the SodM “limited” in determining the amount of gas which can be safely extracted. Nevertheless, the SodM uses this model in determining the extraction level of 24 billion m3.

20. The SodM has calculated that if an earthquake would hit the Huizinge area (the area were the strongest earthquake up till now has been) with a force of 5 or more on the Richter scale there would be “more than 1200 houses likely to be destroyed with a likely lethal casualty number of 118 people during the day and 106 people during the night. (…) It could also be possible that an earthquake (…) would hit a more densely populated area were there would be more casualties.”

21. Less powerful earthquakes in the Huizinge area would cause less lethal casualties.

Force earthquake Lethal casualties during the day Lethal casualties during the night
4 5 4
4,5 29 26
5 118 106

22. The SodM stated in 2013 that with an annual extraction level of approximately 12 billion m3 the number of earthquakes which would be felt by people in the area would decline till almost zero. Because of that this number is often considered a safety norm, though this hasn’t been confirmed by the government. The effects of this extraction level aren’t calculated by the SodM and the NAM.

23. In a debate in parliament on the 15th of February 2017 a number of political parties (the Socialist Party, the Christian Union and the GreenLeft) stated that the extraction level should be reduced to 12 billion m3 as fast as possible. The PvdA and D66 said that scientific research couldn’t account for the 12 billion m3 safety norm and asked for more research. Minister Kamp refused to do this.

24. The former inspector-general of the SodM, Jan de Jong, stated on the 18th of January 2016 during a hearing in parliament that the report of SodM which was made in January 2013 was still relevant: “In the report of SodM which was made in January 2013 it is stated that with a production level of 12 billion m3 the seismic activity will almost be zero. The current inspector-general of the SodM disassociates himself from this statement. (…) even though meanwhile all the other important conclusions from this report are proofed to be correct.”
Our conclusion: An extraction level of 12 billion m3 is a level which gives priority to the safety in the area.

25. The SodM adviced on the 24th of June in 2016 to go to an gas extraction level of minimally 24 billion m3 a year. Minster Kamp said about this on the 15th of February 2017: “we established this as the minimum level .”
How can we explain the difference in view with the report which was made in 2013? The SodM wrote: “If we extract a higher amount of gas than 12 billion m3 a year then there would be more earthquakes, but this doesn’t mean that we exceed the recent safety or damage norm which is considered acceptable.”
So what is this safety norm? That’s the norm that the Meijdam commission suggested, namely that the inhabitants of the Groningen earthquake area shouldn’t be worse off than people in the rest of the Netherlands. This norm is only valid if all the houses, buildings and monuments are made earthquake proof. Which isn’t the case right now. Minister Kamp wrote about this to parliament on the 26th of January 2017: “Currently it isn’t possible to say what a reinforcement operation would entail and when we can say with certainty that all the buildings apply with the safety criteria. (…) My approach is still based on the desire to make Groningen as safe as the rest of the Netherlands as fast as possible”. On the 15th of February 2017 the minister said that he “can’t confirm that the houses in Groningen will be safe within five years after the new extraction plan.”
What is the acceptable level of damage? There doesn’t exist a norm for this. Altogether, the requirements given by the SodM itself aren’t met and therefore from a safety perspective it is obvious to extract not more than 12 billion m3.

26. The risk that a school collapses in the Loppersum region (the centre of the Groninger field) by an earthquake is 90 times greater than what the government considers safe in other locations in the Netherlands.

27. Amount of residences and other buildings to be reinforced according to different sources:

when who how much
March 2015 Report van Rossum 240.000
June 2015 SodM 80.000 to 98.000
August 2015 Hans Alders “tens of thousends”
november 2015 Hans Alders In 2016 1.650 corporation homes
May 2016 NAM 100
december 2016 Hans Alders All 1450 investigated in the center of the area
March 2017 Lefier corporation 14.500 of 17.000 corporation homes of Lefier

28. About 1500 monuments were damaged by earthquakes (measured in October 2016).

The use of natural gas, saving energy, alternatives and export

29. The usage of gas from Groningen is 20 billion m3 per year:

10 billion m3 for households, mostly for heating; 5 billion m3 for heating offices, institutions and malls; 5 billion m3 for companies.

30. According to Friends of the Earth Netherlands a lot of gas can be saved by houses, offices and greenhouses. In addition, if the Netherlands replaces gas heating by thermal pumps and applies more geothermal and residual heating, it will need 12 billion m3 of gas from Groningen by 2020 and 0 m3 by 2030.

31. According to the NAM and the ministry of Economic Affairs 14,5 million households use gas of Groningen Quality: 7,6 million in the Netherlands; 1,5 million in Belgium; 1,4 million in France; 4 million in Germany. In 2020 the export contracts with Germany, Belgium and France still amount to 24 to 29 billion m3 whereas they are reduced to zero by 2030. These countries want to get rid of gas from Groningen sooner than 2030, but the reduction rate remains to be seen.

The use of energy in the province of Groningen

32. The VVD/PvdA-government gave a license to the NAM on the 23d of September 2016 which gave them permission to extract 24 to 30 billion m3 gas from Groningen annually until 2021. Households, companies and institutions in Groningen use 1,7 billion m3 gas annually for heating, this is 6 to 7% of what the NAM extracts.

33. The electricity use in Groningen is 11 billion kilowatt hour. To generate this, the power plant at the Eemshaven uses 2 billion m3 of gas.

34. In total 3,7 billion m3 gas is needed for heating and generating electricity for households, companies and institutions.

35. In the province of Groningen sustainable energy provides for 7,6% of the total energy consumption, subdivided in biomass (4,7%), wind (2,6%), solar (0,2%) and geothermal (0,1%).
The use of energy in the Netherlands

36. We use energy in all kinds of forms. Gas heats our houses, cars drive on gasoline or diesel both produced from oil, our household appliances run on electricity. Electricity is part of the total energy consumption. Statistics of the CBS (Central Statistics Bureau) and others show that electricity constitutes for 25-34% of the total energy consumption. The range results from the calculation method used.

37. According to provisionally numbers Dutch power stations have a total production capacity of 27.000 Megawatt (MW). Of that number, 4600 mw is produced by coal power plants, 14.600 is produced by gas plants, 500 MW is produced by the nuclear power plant in Borssele, 4.100 MW is wind energy and 2000 MW is solar energy (see the table below). Various gas plants are out of use; that’s called preserved power.

Opgesteld vermogen (MW) 2015 2016 2017
Nuclear 500 500 500
Coal 7300 5700 4600
Gas(operational) 15900 15500 14600
Gas (preserved) 4400 4600 4700
Waste incineration 700 700 700
Biomass/biogas 400 500 500
Wind onland 2600 3100 3500
Windat sea 200 400 600
Hydropower 0 0 0
Solar-PV 1000 1500 2000
Total installed capacity 33100 32400 31700

38. Five gas plants with a production power of 1.340 MW use gas from Groningen, which is called low calorific gas. The other Dutch gas plants (15.260 MW) use so called high calorific gas from the small fields and from Russia and Norway.

39. The primary energy use is the use without conversion losses. The efficiency of the best Dutch electricity plants are approximately 60%: of the 100% of primary energy, 60% is converted in electricity and 40% is dumped in cooling water.
The use of energy in the Netherlands from 1950 till 2050

40. The use of electricity is 16 times higher than in 1950.

41. The total amount of energy use is 5,2 times higher than in 1950.

42. Use of energy in the Netherlands from 1980 till 2050; percentages per source.

Year 1980 2013-15 2020 2035 2050
Natural gas 46 43 40 42  
Oil 46 39 35 31  
Coal 5,5 11,5 12 10  
Nuclear energy 1,5 1 1 0  
Solar and Wind 1 5,5 12 17 100

43. Use of energy in the Netherlands from 1950 till 2035 in Petajoule (PJ).

Year Use of energy Source
1950 582
1960 920
1970 2016
1980 2723
1990 2843
2015 3144 regering 2016
2020 3020 regering 2016
2030 1560 Urgenda
2035 2882 regering 2016

Note: PetaJoule (PJ) is a one with 15 zeroes after it.

44. Sun and solar energy are now delivering 2% of the total energy use.
In 2015 5,8% of the energy use was coming from renewable sources. Most of this comes from biomass (70%) and wind energy (20%). The contribution of other sources such as water power (0,3%), solar energy (4,3%), geothermal energy en environmental warmth (5,1%) is limited. Solar panels deliver 0,93% of the total production of electricity. This corresponds to 0,3% of the total energy use.

In 2015 there were 138 wind turbines on sea en at least 2000 wind turbines on land; they delivered 5,8% of the total production of electricity. That’s similar to 1,7% of the total energy use. With that numbers solar and wind energy provided 2% of the total Dutch energy use.

15 times the amount of wind and 83 times the amount of sun

45. Urgenda is a national organisation which aims at fastening the energy transition in the Netherlands and which won the climate court case against the state of The Netherlands on the 24th of June in 2015. Urgenda has made an energy plan. Suppose that the use of energy doesn’t rise anymore from 2030 until 2050 and stays the same after that. Assume furthermore that by 2050 wind- and solar energy each can provide halve of the total energy demand. A crude calculation tells us that if that’s the case the Netherlands needs 15 times the amount of energy from wind energy as it does now. For solar energy that’s 83 times as much as now.

There are voices within the Dutch debate about the energy transition who suggest building nuclear power plants using either uranium or thorium, as well as fusion reactors. We published the reasons why this isn’t a good plan our article “Basic knowledge on nuclear waste and nuclear energy in 20 arguments”.

List of sources
We used 94 sources to make this document. To make it easy readable online, the sources are not included in the text above. But they are all available in the full version of this description of the earthquakes caused by gas production in the Netherlands. You’ll find that version here.

Auteur: Herman Damveld

Herman Damveld woont in Groningen en is zelfstandig onderzoeker en publicist over energie. Vanaf 1976 houdt hij zich bezig met plannen voor ondergrondse opslag van kernafval. Hij heeft daar veel over gepubliceerd. In 1996 kwam hij ook rapporten tegen over ondergrondse opslag van CO2 en ziet veel overeenkomsten tussen hoe de overheden omgaan met kernafval en met CO2. De zonnepanelen van Damveld maken meer stroom dan hij gebruikt en hij is dus stroomproducent.

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