Former Chief Civil Servant Mark Derricks failed to inform Economic Affairs Ministers (EZ) Maxime Verhagen and Henk Kamp several times between 2012 and 2016 about critical events surrounding gas extraction in Groningen. This is evident from his interrogation by the investigative committee on Thursday.
Derricks was director general of energy in the ministry during this time. Headed the gas extraction department.
At the time, the Director General of Energy was a major player in the gas building, the name for the complex cooperation between the state and the oil companies Shell and ExxonMobil.
Dereks attended Groningen Partnership meetings. During that period, the gas extraction policy was determined on this schedule. At the same time, he was a member of the Board of Commissioners of GasTerra, which handled the decisions of the trading house.
Verhagen transferred the file to the next minister
In August 2012, a strong earthquake struck Huizinge. During that time, Verhagen was Minister and Cabinet of Ruti I.
In September, the regulator shared its first troubling insights into the security risks. Research has shown that there can be stronger tremors than was thought, but it was not clear at the time how severe they were.
The committee wanted to know from Dereks why he hadn’t told Verhagen about this. He replied: “I will not carry a minister with incomplete and incomplete information when he is in the last stage of his ministry and is leaving.”
Derricks said it was not difficult to find Verhagen in the ministry at the time. At the time, the mayor of Loebsum tried to reach him, but was unable to contact him. When Derricks heard this, he called Verhagen and asked Derricks to call. Verhagen is said to have said: “This is important for the next minister.”
Derricks denies that the shareholders exercised influence
Kamp, who took office on 5 November, succeeded Verhagen as minister. One day later, Dereks met Camp. In order to fully inform the Minister, the senior official consulted with the other parties to the partnership: Shell and ExxonMobil.
According to the panel, in that conversation with Dierikx, contributors were given “significant leeway” to influence the first conversation with Kamp. They base this observation on minutes.
Derricks doubted this: “I have a different view on this. My style of business is to be well informed and know all the opinions.”
The minister did not see the accounts
In January 2013, Camp had to make a decision on gas extraction. The regulator recommended a cut, but the minister decided otherwise. He conducted fourteen investigations to obtain more information first.
According to Dierikx, there was a lot of uncertainty at the time about safety risks and consequences for supply security. In order to get more clarity, the department asked GasTerra in the fall of 2012 to calculate how much gas extraction could be reduced. They reached 27 billion cubic meters. At the end of December, the trading house was again asked to explore scenarios.
This number was known to officials, but it was not specifically mentioned in notes prepared for Camp at the beginning of January. Derricks said the poll was not shared with the minister.
Ministry reacts with a shrug about extracting the top
In February/March 2013, it became clear to Dierikx that gas extraction from the Groningen field would also be higher than in previous years. Derricks Camp reported in May. At the time, NAM and GasTerra employees were concerned about this high extraction due to the social backlash.
“What is your advice?” asked the minister. Dereks advised not to interfere. A few months ago, the minister also decided to do more research before deciding on a possible reduction. Dereks emphasized that there were no new insights yet and that they had to act constantly.
The camp did not interfere. Gas production reached nearly 54 billion that year, a record since 1981. It caused a lot of frustration in Groningen.
The commission told Dereks that it had heard that the working relationship between him and Camp would have deteriorated as a result. He does not recognize this image, although he notes that the minister after that was not satisfied with the situation. “But it was a matter of sanding over it. That’s what it is.”
The highest civil servant had much room to make his own decisions
The examples show a picture of the workings of senior government official Dereks, who also gave an explanation. In the period up to 2014, it was not customary to consult a minister on the positions he held in his position in the gas building. The Director General was representing the state but he sat there in his ‘personal capacity’.
He would give notes to the Minister only if “it was necessary”. For example, at the end of 2012 – all parties were already aware of new insights into the risks – Dierikx approved GasTerra’s business plan to extract 48.9 billion cubic meters of gas in 2013. Camp was not informed of this.
Gradually, this changed. “Camp felt less and less comfortable with the fact that he was responsible for the position that the General Manager had taken in those two meetings, but he did not participate in them,” said Derricks.
The inquiry will question Secretary Camp on Friday afternoon.
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