(Updates with details, background)
AMSTERDAM Jan 5 A Dutch court on Thursday
upheld a government decision to cap production at the offshore
Groningen gas field, a step aimed at easing the risk of
earthquakes triggered by drawing gas from Europe's biggest
The court was responding to requests for a preliminary
injunction against the June decision to cap annual output at 24
billion cubic metres (bcm) until Oct. 1, 2021. Critics had
sought a deeper cut or halt to production.
Output has been cut several times from 53.9 bcm in 2013 as
criticism mounted that Dutch authorities had failed to
adequately assess the risk to citizens from earthquakes caused
The government was formally censured by the country's Safety
Board after a magnitude 3.6 quake hit the town of Huizinge in
2012 - larger than had been deemed possible by NAM, the
Shell-Exxon joint venture that oversees production.
Small quakes remain frequent in Groningen, and while no
physical injuries have been reported, buildings across the
region have suffered billions of euros in damage because they
were never designed to withstand tremors.
The Council of State, the court which allows challenges to
government decisions, said it saw no reason to alter the
decision ahead of a broader case against Groningen gas field
production it will consider this spring.
Last year's decision capped production at 24 bcm, down from
a previous maximum of 27 bcm. It includes the possibility to
expand output back up to 30 bcm if unusually cold weather were
to jeopardise supplies for households in the Netherlands,
Germany and Belgium that depend on Groningen gas for warmth.
At the request of the Dutch parliament, the cap is subject
to annual review by the government in case technical or other
developments make it possible to reduce production more quickly.
Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp has said that production
at Groningen is expected to continue winding down as the
Netherlands seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and its
dependency on fossil fuels.
Germany has said it intends to speed up weaning households
off natural gas, and Kamp last month announced plans to ban gas
heating from all new housing projects in the Netherlands.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Mark Heinrich)