Permanent quarrel over who should pay what, when reinforcing houses in Groningen, leads to significant delays

Since 2015, the government has been held hostage by the permanent disagreement with NAM over who should pay what for the reinforcement of houses in the earthquake area of ​​Groningen. This will lead to significant delays and permanent uncertainty among sprouts.

It is known that there were regular tensions between NAM and the government over the details and payment of the reinforcement operation. The Dutch Petroleum Company (NAM) and the state have always publicly claimed that money was not a limiting factor in ensuring the safety of the earthquake area.

In fact, there are ongoing discussions about when houses are safe or not, and the subsequent cost negotiations, as a common thread through the delay of the reinforcement operation, research regarding. NRC and Nordens Avis† As a result, reinforcement plans were adjusted, postponed or sometimes canceled.

From the moment reinforcement became an issue in 2015, NAM has questioned safety standards. They decide which houses are unsafe and how they should be reinforced so that residents can still leave their homes alive in the event of a major earthquake. The company, a joint venture between Shell and ExxonMobil, was immediately aware that these standards would determine the cost of the operation.

In the years that followed, the NAM, like other parties, said the standards were too conservative and would therefore lead to unnecessary action. If the standards were then made less conservative, NAM insisted that the reinforcement plans be adapted to “the latest insights”. And then steer towards new standards.

In July 2017, when the reinforcement operation had started with difficulty, the national coordinator Groningen (NCG) briefly suspended Hans Alders’ collaboration with NAM. Alders was appointed by the Cabinet in 2015 to monitor the progress of the reinforcements. In a letter to NAM, Alders accused the company of not complying with agreements and that the ongoing discussion of the “cadres” led to delays and thus “breaches of trust” among the residents.

This pattern repeated itself in the years that followed, according to documents and conversations with those involved. NAM “does not recognize itself in the outlined image,” the company said. According to NAM, the government has deviated significantly “from the agreements entered into with NAM” on the reinforcement action. The company believes the government has never properly explained why the operation “has grown significantly” as the risk of earthquakes decreases.

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Although NAM says they are trying to prevent unnecessary disruption by adjusting safety standards, cost seems to play a big role in the company. For example, a NAM director at a meeting with top officials in economic affairs in August 2018 about the cost of the reinforcements made it clear that the company would only fund security costs and nothing else.

‘Reinforcement more expensive than house value’

In 2019, a NAM director wrote to NCG in a letter that the cost of the reinforcement project Heft in Eigen Hand “appears to be high”. Although NAM and the government had already agreed in 2016 on the financing of this project, and according to the director, NAM “has no significant involvement in the process”, the company wanted to “reaffirm the importance of reasonable and financially responsible expenditure”. To emphasize his point, he added a table comparing the reinforcement cost of about 30 buildings with the WOZ value. The costs, the director emphasizes, are on average almost four times higher than the home value.

In 2018, the government took over responsibility for the reinforcement, precisely to avoid discussions about money leading to delays. The government would pay all necessary costs and then settle with NAM ‘at the back door’. But after that, disagreements in the government even though funding plans continued to lead to major delays.

Meanwhile, a legal dispute has arisen between NAM and the government over the settlement at the back door. NAM refuses to pay more than 124 million euros in invoices.

The reinforcement operation is still not going well. A total of 27,165 properties in Groningen must be inspected to determine if they live up to the applicable safety standard. Currently, less than 4,800 homes have been assessed or actually reinforced (17 percent), writes the national coordinator Groningen. All houses in the earthquake area in Groningen should be safe in 2028, but the State Inspectorate of Mines doubts whether this will succeed at the current pace.

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