The Dutch government apologized on Monday for ignoring risks posed by earthquakes caused by production of natural gas in the northern province of Groningen.
The apology follows a report by the country's independent Safety Board in February that found the government, together with Royal Shell and Exxon, had put profits before safety in exploiting the Groningen gas field, Europe's largest.
“I am very sorry that the safety interests of Groningers did not receive the attention they deserved,” said Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp. “Safety will now come first”
In February Kamp ordered production at the Gronignen field to be cut by 16 percent for the first half of 2015, sending prices in Northwest Europe surging. He is due to make another decision on production at the field on July 1.
Earthquakes were definitively linked to production at Groningen in 1993, but they became more frequent and more intense after 2008, when production at the field was boosted.
Increased gas revenues provided important as Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centrist Cabinet pursued unpopular austerity policies.
After a 2012 earthquake registered 3.6 on the Richter scale, greater than any Shell and Exxon had forecast, regulators warned the government that citizens' safety was at risk and to cut production as quickly as possible.
But the government only ordered production reduced in 2014, and modestly.
The Groningen field accounts for two-thirds of Dutch gas production, and the Netherlands supplies about 15 percent of Europe's total natural gas, providing an important alternative for Russian gas.
In the wake of the Safety Board report, Dutch political parties across the spectrum are calling for Groningen never to return to former levels of production, and left-leaning parties want production cut further.
Provincial elections are scheduled March 18 in which the Cabinet stands to lose support in the Dutch senate, with uncertain consequences.