The Dutch government plans to rapidly cut production at Europe's biggest gas field after a raft of damaging earthquakes, aiming to eventually the shut the taps by 2030, top officials announced on Thursday.
"Gas production will be scaled down to 12 billion cubic metres within the coming four to five years and eventually to zero in the next decade," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference.
"Even at a level of 12 billion cubic metres, it's not safe. Gas production must simply go down to zero," added Economy Minister Eric Wiebes, who said extraction from the northern Groningen gas field will stop by 2030.
The current gas output is some 21.6 billion cubic metres, which was set in April 2017 and was already drastically scaled back from 53.9 billion cubic metres in 2013.
Groningen's residents have been calling for gas production to halt following a series of low-level tremors plaguing the area, damaging homes, schools, churches and farms.
The low-magnitude quakes are said to result from huge air pockets left underground because of gas extraction.
In one of the latest incidents, a 3.4-magnitude tremor hit the area in January—the largest since 2012.
On Thursday, Wiebes said "technically" it would remain possible to continue with gas extraction.
But continued production "cannot be defended when it comes to safety issues," Wiebes said, calling the announcement a "turning point."
"Until now we've been fighting the symptoms and not the cause," he said.
Closing the Groningen gas field, which has been in operation since 1963 "calls for a series of far-reaching measures," the Dutch government added in a statement.
This included building a new 500 million euro ($616.6 million) nitrogen plant, which will produce natural gas as a byproduct, helping cut demand from Groningen by seven billion cubic metres a year.
The government also called on Dutch households to contribute to reducing gas demand by ensuring that new homes are built to use electricity instead of gas, but said that there was no need for residential customers to worry about supplies.
The Netherlands also exports natural gas from Groningen, and Wiebes said he has had "serious discussions" with foreign colleagues in Belgium, France and Germany to find solutions to reduce demand for gas from the field in coming years.
Dutch environmental groups applauded the announcement but urged the government to completely stop all supply of gas to Dutch households.
"Groningen had to wait a long time for this," eco group Milieudefensie said in a statement.
"But gas usage will barely go down with these measures because it will mainly be a switch to imported gas..." it said.
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