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Today, the King’s Commissioner, Rene Bass, as the 60th witness before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Natural Gas Extraction in Groningen, has issued a harsh verdict on the role of the national government. “Groningen was mistreated by the state of the Netherlands,” he said. It was after an interrogation that lasted for more than two hours, during which he explained how difficult the relationship between the administrators in the North and in The Hague was.
Bass described his relationship with the former minister of economic affairs as “not intimate.” Things went better with Kamp’s successor Wiebes, but Paas’ frustration at begging for money and boycott recognition exploded. “We are the province that made the Netherlands rich. Groningen has the right to the continued participation of the government and parliament.” He was referring to more than 400 billion euros of gas extracted from the Groningen soil.
Remarkably, Bass directs his arrows at the state, and not at the oil companies, which also earned a lot of money from gas extraction. In the past, outrage was mainly focused on Shell and Exxon. It was their subsidiary, NAM, that pulled the gas. In the early 1990s, it was recognized that earthquakes were a consequence.
The fact that the anger is now focused more on The Hague may be because the interrogations reveal much about the involvement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the management of the Groningen field. Civil servants have worked closely with multinational corporations for many years and have not always considered the interests of the Groningers.
By the way, it was not only the Ministry of Economic Affairs that gave priority to commercial interests. For example, Sandor Gastra, director general of climate and energy from that department, said earlier that Minister Webbs also needed financial arguments in 2018 to turn off the gas tap in Groningen. The Groningers’ safety was not the definitive argument for permission from the rest of the Cabinet.
During interrogations, yesterday, with the CEO of Dutch Shell, Marjan van Loon, and today with production director Rolf de Jong of Exxon Holland, it appeared that after 2017, the oil companies left control of the state.
This had to do with an imminent criminal case of endangering people from Groningen by extracting gas. At the beginning of 2017, the court in Arnhem requested a criminal investigation into the Non-Aligned Movement regarding the consequences of earthquakes on the residents of Groningen.
“This statement was shocking,” de Jong said today. De Jong and Van Loon told the commission that a field elsewhere in the world would be closed if the situation was unsafe. But given the Netherlands’ dependence on Groningen gas, they saw this as not an option. After this ruling, the oil companies wanted to continue extracting gas only if the state required them to do so.
Before the court ruling in Arnhem, the oil companies, together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, made decisions regarding gas extraction in Groningen. Since the beginning of gas extraction, the common task in this public-private partnership has been to make as much money as possible from Groningen gas.
With the aim of criminal investigation and their legal responsibility, the oil companies sent their top bosses to Prime Minister Rutte. This eventually led to a planned agreement under which the phasing out of gas production, as well as the responsibility of Shell and Exxon, was regulated.
To this day, oil companies and the state are at odds with each other about ending gas extraction. There are currently two arbitration cases pending. The oil companies are also unhappy about keeping Groningen under the experimental spotlight. They want clarification on ending gas extraction.
On Monday, Wiebes and Wopke Hoekstra will have their say. The latter was Minister of Finance when it was decided to stop gas exploration.
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