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Dutch to hasten plans to pay damages after gas field quake

2 min

The Hague (AFP)

The Dutch government plans to speed up moves to compensate people whose homes and buildings were damaged in a 3.4 magnitude quake, blamed on extraction at Europe's biggest gas field.

"I want a framework for compensation to be drawn up within a couple of weeks," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Friday, just days after northern Groningen province was hit by its biggest quake since 2012.

More than 900 homes and buildings were damaged, according to an association which collates reports from residents.

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

The relatively low magnitude quakes are said to result from huge air pockets left underground because of gas extraction.

"The safety of the residents must take priority over the health of public finances," Rutte added.

Last year a total of 18 quakes measuring 1.5-magnitude or higher were measured in the Groningen gas field, according to the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI).

Last year residents backed by local environmental groups launched legal action against the state, calling for a complete halt to gas production in Groningen.

In November, the highest Dutch court threw out the government's plans to cap extraction at 21.6 billion cubic metres per year, after it has been dramatically scaled it back in stages from 53.9 billion cubic metres in 2013.

Instead, the judges gave the cabinet a year to come up with new proposals, ruling that former economics minister Henk Kamp had "failed to make clear potential measures to limit the demand for gas".

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.

Rutte's new coalition government has vowed to keep the issue of the earthquakes "high on the agenda" and plans to wean the Dutch off natural gas for heating.

It has pledged "to reduce demand for Groningen gas by 3 billion cubic metres between now and 2021."

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