What did Camp do? He was mostly passive

What did Camp do? He was mostly passive
What did Camp do? He was mostly passive

‘You hardly feel tremors of less than 2.5,’ said Henk Kamp (VVD) on Friday afternoon during his public interrogation by the parliamentary committee of inquiry in The Hague that is investigating gas extraction in Groningen. Residents of Uithuizen, where an earthquake of 2.3 was registered in the night from Thursday to Friday, experienced it differently. They woke up to “a bang and a thump”, heard the quake “rolling under the house” and felt that “everything in the house was shaking”, Groningen media reported Friday.

This week, the committee of inquiry focused on decision-making on the level of gas extraction after the Huizinge earthquake in 2012, with a magnitude of 3.6, the heaviest to date. One of the most important questions that the committee wants to answer is how it is possible that the gas tap was not turned off in the year after ‘Huizinge’ but was opened much further.

no hold

The seven MPs who question two to three witnesses every day try to make a meticulous reconstruction: who said or did what at what time, and what did that lead to? Kamp, who was responsible for gas extraction in the Rutte II cabinet, is perhaps the most important link in this. But the MPs failed to get a good grip on the experienced politician. He evaded concrete answers to thorny questions, sprinkled facts about gas extraction that the committee did not ask for, and committee members Tom van der Lee (GroenLinks) and Stieneke van der Graaf (ChristenUnie) – who conducted the interrogation – repeatedly brushed off details thanks to his enormous file knowledge.

Yet Kamp’s comment that you don’t feel an earthquake below 2.5 showed a glimpse of how he must have viewed safety in Groningen in January 2013. Kamp had just become Minister of Economic Affairs (EZ) at the time. He received an urgent advice from the State Supervision of Mines (SodM), which warned that there would be more earthquakes, and much more serious ones, if gas extraction continued at the same level. There could even be a death. The regulator felt that the minister should reduce gas extraction as quickly and as realistically as possible.

But all Kamp did was conduct fourteen investigations into the consequences of gas extraction. He put off the decision whether to reduce production until early 2014. “I didn’t want to make a decision about the extraction because I felt I couldn’t do it substantiated.”

When he heard in mid-2013 that the gas production that year would be even higher than planned, he again did not intervene. Kamp said that safety was paramount for him, but admitted that the security of supply of Groningen gas was also important: if you cannot heat your home for three, four, five, six, seven days during a very cold winter, that would be a real disruption of society.”

state treasury

But did the interests of the Dutch treasury not play a prominent role? After all, gas extraction generated many billions for the State at a time when the country was trying to recover from a financial crisis. “Of course that played a role, but that was never the driving force,” said Kamp. Jeroen Dijsselbloem (PvdA), Minister of Finance in the same cabinet, received the same question earlier in the day. He only heard about the high gas production in 2013 when the gas had already been pumped out of the ground. He said he was “very surprised” about this.

Kamp opened up about that elevation. For years he maintained that higher gas production was necessary that year, otherwise people would be left out in the cold. But, Kamp said on Friday, an internal evaluation in 2015 shows that this is not true. Less gas was needed than was extracted. “I had a bad feeling about that,” said Kamp. “Extra gas was deliberately sold.” It was not clear who made that decision this week. Dijsselbloem addressed the committee: “I hope you find out who decided that.”

A year later, in 2014, the gas production was again higher than the advice of the regulator SodM. Dijsselbloem had insisted on it because of the state treasury, he admitted during the interrogation: “I was guided by the budget and afterwards I find that very unfortunate.”

Independent top civil servant

One of the most startling interrogations was that of Mark Dierikx, former top official of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. He told Thursday how he took important decisions with a great deal of independence, without informing his ministers. For example, in December 2012, he gave gas trading company GasTerra agreement to sell more gas from Groningen, despite his knowledge of the SodM advice. At crucial moments it turned out that it was not the minister, but sometimes the civil service that determined the course of gas extraction.

And so the interrogations this week – they will continue until mid-October – did not provide a definitive answer to the question of why gas production increased after Huizinge. What did become clear: the passivity of all those involved. The alarming report that the SodM drew up after ‘Huizinge’ turned out to be insufficient reason to put a stop to gas production. But they all regretted afterwards that they had not intervened at the time.

A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 10, 2022

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Camp passive

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