A MINING watchdog has advised the Dutch government to significantly decrease the amount of gas extracted from the north-eastern region of Groningen.

It said a cut is necessary to reduce the risk of damage caused by subsequent earthquakes.

The Dutch State Supervision of Mines urged the government to slash the amount of gas extracted from this year’s maximum of 24 billion cubic metres (31.4bn cubic yards) to 12bn cubic metres (15.7bn cubic yards). The advice is likely to be a factor in the decision on the level of extraction allowed from the lucrative Groningen gas field, one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves.

Inspector general of mines Theodor Kockelkoren said: “A major intervention is necessary in order to probably meet the safety standard and to reduce the risk of damage.”

Kockelkoren said there remain many uncertainties in linking production cuts to a drop in the frequency and intensity of quakes.

“We therefore choose to be on the conservative side,” he said. “After all, it concerns the safety of the inhabitants of Groningen.”

Thousands of homes have suffered significant damage in the region caused by hundreds of small quakes in recent years. Research by the University of Groningen and local health authorities suggests that thousands of residents are suffering stress-related health problems due to the quakes.