view |  Gas extraction in Groningen: Science should have its hand on its lap

view | Gas extraction in Groningen: Science should have its hand on its lap

The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry speaks on the extraction of natural gas in Groningen of an “unprecedented system failure”. In such a situation, self-reflection is necessary. From the previous opinions of the participants in Norwegian Refugee Council There was a little bit of that.

In this view, we look at the shortcomings of our sector. Science has been blind to risks and problems for too long. What does this report mean for knowledge institutions?

In the early 1990s, a major study of the first earthquakes was prepared. In this collaboration, NAM, KNMI, TNO, State Supervision of Mines (SodM) and technical scientists at universities entered a ‘tunnel’ with each other, the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee concluded: they underestimated the importance of earthquakes.

With the intensity and number of earthquakes increasing, questions were asked in private, but no thorough investigation was conducted. Ostensibly, one has formed a front with the Non-Aligned Movement, which “focuses efforts primarily on disproving the causal relationship between earthquakes and damage.”

The consequences were dire. Already in 2003 and 2006 there were earthquakes of magnitude 3.5. Residents sounded the alarm. However, gas extraction has increased. The committee describes this lack of knowledge about earthquakes as “reprehensible”.

The change of tunnel vision came only when SodM employees tasted fear after the Huizinge earthquake in 2012. Finally the research was done, hard knowledge turned out to be quicksand. It became clear that there were major suspicions and the gas building used them as a “smoke screen” to deceive the minister. This kept gas extraction high.

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Knowledge of the population

In all that time there was little interest in knowing the population. The Dutch Safety Council had already indicated in 2015 that safety policy should also take their experiences into account. When the investment in independent research on populations was finally made, it confirmed what many had claimed: earthquakes disrupt human lives. Emphasis was placed on the extent of the harm to health.

Even today, scholars disagree about how residents’ experiences should be factored into safety policy. A symptom of the split is the creation of three knowledge platforms: not one, but three platforms: one about underground risk (Knowledge Impacts for Mining programme), one about Building Engineering Solutions (BuildinG), and one about social impact (Livable Knowledge Platform and Kansrijk Groningen) .

This division is very problematic. Knowledge of technology and its subsurface is not currently properly correlated with knowledge about social consequences, such as economic, social, psychological, and health.

The investigative committee supports this. The problem of gas extraction has a series of consequences for the quality of life, health, well-being, economy, cohesion and emotional life. Complex situations arise for residents with negative implications for health and quality of life: they need to be dealt with better.

The fact that so much of the population is facing problems proves that the current approach to risk and safety is insufficient. For a more effective approach, insights into subsurface hazards, structural solutions, and above-ground consequences must be considered together. The Committee therefore recommends that knowledge parties combine knowledge about physical and non-material effects […] I must come.” There should be more exchanges between disciplines and institutes. Everyone should make better use of the knowledge of the population.

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Read also: Commission of Inquiry: How the Netherlands could recover a “debt of honour” to Groningen

more know how

But to achieve this transformation, the committee’s recommendations are not enough. First, research into social influences above ground is still in its infancy. Large multi-year programs for research into the Earth’s interior have been set up, with a budget of more than 100 million euros. Research into above-ground effects is small, short-lived, and scattered. Larger projects, such as Gronings Perspectief and Kennisplatform Leefbaar en Kansrijk Groningen, are kept together through art and aviation. So implementing the recommendations requires more social science in structural terms know how.

Secondly, knowledge should be more independent and open. Knowledge institutions have been dependent on NAM and the gas building for a long time: only technical knowledge is counted and population is ignored. It is important to learn from this in new innovations such as (green) energy and hydrogen. Here, too, there is a risk that close collaboration between knowledge institutions and corporations will leave the population out in the open. This must change because, as the Inquiry made clear: Technology is nothing without it License to operate.

Finally, the commission states that systems and models do not work in practice. We believe that the fact that professionals who create policies, systems and models often have a scientific or higher professional education plays a role here: they lack the insights of executors with practical training. We therefore believe that the latter should be given a much greater role. This means a much better collaboration between science, higher vocational education and secondary vocational education: which is exactly what the Nordic knowledge institutions want to achieve with the University of the North. In short, this requires a different way of thinking and doing.

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