The fact that victims of gas or oil extraction had to prove themselves for years that they had damaged their home was in the interest of those citizens themselves. This was stated by former minister Annemarie Jorritsma this afternoon during the interrogation by the parliamentary inquiry committee for natural gas extraction in Groningen.
Jorritsma was the first politician to be questioned by the committee this afternoon. The former Minister of Economic Affairs was responsible for the gas file between 1998 and 2002 as Minister of Economic Affairs. She warned at the beginning of her interrogation that that period was long ago and regularly said during the session that she could not remember certain things.
Yet Jorritsma was clear about one thing: if the burden of proof for mining damage at the time had not been with citizens but with companies such as NAM, then citizens would not have been helped. “I was against that. Then everything would have gone to court and the citizen would not have been better off with that.” Such companies have very deep pockets to pay lawyers and procedures would have been stretched for years, she feared.
I have tried to help citizens to prepare as well as possible
At the time, Jorritsma chose to have victims recover the damage from the mining company itself. If that did not come through, the victim could turn to the technical committee for soil movement, an independent club of experts that came up with advice. With that advice in hand, the victim could recover the damage and – if the company should nevertheless refuse – stand stronger in court.
“I have tried to help citizens to prepare as well as possible”, Jorritsma said.
The fact that NAM owners Shell and ExxonMobil were also against reversing the burden of proof at the time did not matter, according to Jorritsma. “I didn’t think it was a good idea because it didn’t solve the problem.”
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For her, the main priority was how citizens had the best chance of getting compensation for their damage quickly, she told the committee. “It turned out that it wasn’t enough. I find that annoying.”
‘It really was a different time’
It is now legally regulated that the mining company itself must prove that damage to houses was not caused by gas extraction. However, Jorritsma sees no improvement in this: ,,I don’t think that the problems of Groningers have become smaller as a result.”
I don’t think I’m here to give opinions
That was also one of the few times that Jorritsma referred in her interrogation to the current situation in Groningen, where residents have been waiting for a long time for damage repairs and reinforcement of their homes. She emphasized that she wanted to limit herself to the period in which she was a minister. “I don’t think I’m here to give opinions. I have a hard time venturing into speculations rather than facts.”
Jorritsma made it clear to the committee that the attention paid to mining damage due to subsidence in her time as a political administrator was not as great as it is now. “The world looked different then. It really was a different time.”
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