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A Dutch appeals court ordered on Thursday local prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into whether gas company NAM, jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, was criminally liable for earthquakes caused by natural gas extraction at the Groningen field, the Netherlands’ largest.
There have been many small earthquakes in the northeast Groningen province, but prosecutors have not opened investigations into NAM yet because no injuries have been reported and the prosecution has not considered the matter a subject of criminal probe, rather, a civil matter.
But on Thursday, the Leeuwarden-Arnhem Appeals Court said in the ruling ordering the investigation, as carried by Reuters:
“The court observes that there is evidence that the NAM is culpable of...damaging buildings with threat to human life.”
“An investigation must now take place to determine if prosecution should follow,” Dutch News quoted the court as further saying.
Following the court order for investigation, NAM said in a statement that it takes note of the decision and is surprised by it. The prosecutors and court have found in previous rulings that there were no reasons for prosecution, NAM said, adding that the probe does not automatically lead to charges. The company also stated that it would fully cooperate with the investigation.
According to Reuters, NAM has accepted civil responsibility for damages caused by the quakes and is paying damages of over $1.075 billion (1 billion euros).
The Groningen gas field supplies gas to 98 percent of the population of the Netherlands, according to NAM. The company admits on its website that “Gas production from the Groningen gas field causes earthquakes which affect the daily lives of communities living in the area.”
The Dutch government will cut again output at Groningen in order to reduce the risks, the fourth production cut since a safety board said in February 2015 that authorities had disregarded potential risks for decades.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.