Dutch cut gas firm out of quake damage compensation process

By MIKE CORDEREnergyAssociated Press

Dutch authorities unveiled a new agreement Wednesday to compensate homeowners for damages due to earthquakes caused by gas extraction, a deal that removes the company responsible for the quakes from the compensation process.

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In a concession to thousands of northeastern residents whose homes have been shaken by hundreds of small quakes in recent years, Economic Affairs and Climate Minister Eric Wiebes said the company extracting the gas, known by its Dutch acronym NAM, would no longer have a say in who gets what compensation.

Instead, starting March 19, an independent commission will rule on claims based on "expertise, content and facts," Wiebes told a nationally televised press conference.

The new independent system means that "individual claimants will no longer have to do business with the NAM," the government said.

Instead, the Dutch government will foot the bill and in turn will claim the money back from NAM, a joint venture between Shell and ExxonMobil.

A previous compensation scheme was shelved last year amid complaints from homeowners that NAM was too closely involved. In the months since, more than 8,000 new claims have been registered but have gone nowhere while the new system was being created.

Hans Warink, whose home has suffered repeated damage, said he was "moderately positive" about the new scheme.

"I'm pleased that it's ready," he said.

The Dutch government has in recent years cut the amount of gas extracted from the Groningen field, one of the world's largest deposits of natural gas, in an attempt to reduce the number and intensity of quakes in the region.

But a 3.4-magnitude quake on Jan. 8 gave fresh impetus to calls for a complete halt to Dutch gas extraction — a move that would cost the government millions in lost tax revenues each year.