(Adds quotes, details on gas usage and production cuts)
AMSTERDAM, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Gas production in the Dutch Groningen field needs to be lowered as much as possible in the coming three years to limit the risks of earthquakes, Dutch Economy Minister Eric Wiebes told parliament on Tuesday.
“We need to look at ways to cut production by as much as reasonably possible during our government term,” Wiebes said during a debate on the future of the vast Groningen field. A detailed proposal will be presented before the end of March, he said.
The debate followed last week’s earthquake in the region, which prompted gas company NAM and the main regulator to call for a substantial production cut to limit seismic risks.
“We need to get rid of gas in the long term and need to lower production now,” Wiebes said. “Financial consequences will play no role in my considerations.”
The government has lowered output from Groningen several times in recent years as decades of extraction have led to dozens of earthquakes each year, damaging thousands of homes and buildings.
But possibilities for further cuts are limited, as almost all Dutch households and many industrial companies depend on gas produced in Groningen.
Wiebes stressed the importance of switching large industrial users to other sources of energy and trying to revise export contracts for Groningen gas. “We won’t hesitate to switch off gas where possible, but the current dependency is not easy to solve,” he said.
After a 10 percent cut to an annual rate of 21.6 billion cubic metres (bcm) of production for the year through October 2018, the Dutch government had pledged before last week’s earthquake that it would further reduce production to 20.1 bcm by 2020.
Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman