The Dutch government has cut production at Europe's largest gas field in Groningen amid concerns over earthquakes which are damaging local churches. As Amy Pollock reports the decision - largely politically-motivated - could have big economic conseqeunces.
Europe's largest gas field and the tenth largest on the planet. But Groningen's future is now in question after the Dutch government was forced to cut production. The problem? Earthquakes near the surface causing damage to buildings not designed to withstand them. Locals like civil engineer Jur Bekooy have been calling for action for years. He says 40 of the 50 churches above the field have been affected. (SOUNDBITE) (Dutch), GRONINGEN OLD CHURCHES CHAIRMAN, JUR BEKOOY, SAYING: "The building like this must not be lost and that is what our policy should be aimed at. It is not from the economic side, with money you can buy many things, but money cannot replace this building," The industry regulator says the higher the gas production the bigger the chance of an earthquake of a magnitude of 4 or 5 - and they're classed as a risk to human life. Groningen is certainly a high production operation. It's expected to provide most of the country's natural gas for the next decade - and 15% of Europe's. Sander Van Rootselaar is a spokesman for NAM - the joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil that runs the field. (SOUNDBITE) (English), "NAM" GAS COMPANY SPOKESMAN, SANDER VAN ROOTSELAAR, SAYING: "We know since the early nineties that there is a relation between gas production and earthquakes, but gas has an important role to play in a Dutch energy mix, about 98 percent of Dutch households are connected to the gas grid, connected to the Groningen gas field directly, so it creates a lot of value for the Dutch households, but also for Dutch economy Production was ramped up during the financial crisis - the revenues providing a welcome cushion against austerity measures. And the recent cut sparked price rises. But Groningen may have to get used a lower output. There's widespread political support for reduced production and local elections are taking place in just two weeks.