The Gasmolecule is a sculpture of a methane molecule with a height of 8 meters and is located in Slochteren in the province of Groningen in the North of the Netherlands. The sculpture commemorates the find of a massive natural gas field (2700 billion cubic meters) in 1959 that has since provided millions of homes with warmth and generated 211 billion euros in state revenues (thanks to Napoleon the government owns the gas and not the landowner). But now the party seems to be over. And the reason being? earthquakes. The last quake to hit the region measured 3.4, (link) not enough to bring buildings down but enough the unsettle them and to unsettle the locals.
Latest advice to the government: reduce the gas output from 21 billion cubic meters per year to just 12 (link) but the national requirement ranges from 14 (soft winter) to 27 billion (severe winter) billion cubic meters per year.
In the meanwhile NAM company, a joint venture between Shell and ExxonMobil responsible for the extraction of all that gas ensures the public it has 3 to 5 billion euros available for compensating earthquake damage. (link) At the same time it is curious that partner Shell considers itself no longer liable for any damages (link) and that NAM is financially not that solid. There is also foreign pressure: the country has committed itself to supplying gas to other countries. Already Belgium has demanded its supply will not get interrupted (doi).
And what about the science? Will reducing the gas output actually prevent earthquakes? (link) The geology of the region is that of sandstone. The gas is extracted at a depth of three kilometres and pore pressure reduction will lead to ground level depression (up to 30 centimetres). But the resulting mechanical stress does not automatically lead to an earthquake, there is a thing called aseismic creep that would make things smooth out. To be continued.