THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Tuesday to residents of the northern province of Groningen who have suffered for years from earthquakes caused by gas extraction that damaged thousands of homes and ruined lives.
Rutte's apology and a pledge to fund a generation-long program to revitalize the remote region came as his government published its official reaction to a damning parliamentary commission report issued in February that said the government owed the Groningen region a “debt of honor” after putting gas profits before people for decades.
“We stand here, cap in hand,” Rutte told residents in the northern village of Garmerwolde. “We can't take away all the suffering from the past. We can't undo what has gone wrong since gas extraction started. But we are determined to do things differently, working closely with the people here. And that means a commitment of years, an approach for an entire generation.”
The government pledged to end all gas extraction — which has already been scaled back to almost nothing — by October, or by 2024 at the latest. It also said it will spend at least 22 billion euros ($24.25 billion) on paying for repairs to homes and infrastructure and to “invest in the long-term economic perspective” of the region.
Groningen has for years been a hotbed of discontent fueled by the earthquakes and faltering government attempts to compensate residents. It remains to be seen if the new package of measures and investments will satisfy the deeply skeptical population of the region. An organization representing residents did not immediately comment.
A consortium including energy giants Shell and ExxonMobil extracted gas from the huge Groningen underground reserves for decades before the government took a decision in 2018 to gradually stop pumping gas out of the Groningen field — one of the world’s largest at 2,800 billion cubic meters.
The parliamentary inquiry said the huge profits — over the years the Dutch state earned 363 billion euros from Groningen gas — blinded successive governments to the plight of people in the region.
“The interests of the people of Groningen have been structurally ignored in natural gas extraction in Groningen, with disastrous consequences for the people of Groningen,” the commission responsible for the report said in a statement in February.