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Dutch court hearing pits Big Oil against Groningen locals

Bart H. Meijer: JULY 13, 2017 / 12:59 PM

THE HAGUE, July 13 (Reuters) – Angry Dutch residents living near the huge Groningen gas field demanded a total halt to production, accusing oil giants of causing house-damaging earth tremors and the government of lying at a hearing in the Netherlands’ highest court on Thursday.

Two days of proceedings at the Council of State is considering appeals against a government plan to curb production at the massive field by an additional 10 percent from Oct. 1.

Residents want extraction at the field, which once supplied 10 percent of the European Union’s gas needs, to be stopped altogether due to minor earthquakes that have damaged thousands of homes and buildings.

NAM has accepted civil responsibility for damage caused by the quakes and is paying damages of more than 1 billion euros.

Gas production company NAM, a joint venture between oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobile, said it has appealed against the proposed cut because the decision ignored earlier agreed safety norms.

Opponents accused NAM and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, which sets production levels, of underestimating the dangers of the gas extraction.

“We have consistently been lied to,” lawyer Nette Kruzenga, representing a group of Groningen residents, told the court. “The NAM is only interested in maximizing production, and the government is ignoring its task to protect people.”

The Dutch government has lowered production at Groningen several times over the past three years due to small earthquakes triggered by gas extraction.

The latest cap, announced in May, would lower output to 21.6 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year, down from 53.9 bcm in 2013.

The 50-50 Exxon-Shell joint venture has said it had been put in an impossible position having been told it could continue production, vital to supply millions of Dutch homes with gas for heating and cooking, but without guarantees it is meeting safety standards.

(Writing by Anthony Deutsch, editing by David Evans)

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