Dutch court finds energy firm liable for emotional suffering

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that an energy company jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil is liable for the psychological suffering of residents in the north of the country whose homes have been damaged by small earthquakes caused by gas drilling.

A court in the northern city of Assen held the Netherlands Petroleum Company, known by its Dutch acronym NAM, liable for so-called "immaterial damages" suffered by residents and ordered the company to pay them compensation.

The court said that the regular earthquakes create a situation "in which NAM seriously breaches a fundamental right, the right to the undisturbed enjoyment of living."

NAM official Thijs Jurgens said in a statement that the company has "always stated that we are responsible for earthquake-related damage" including immaterial damages. The company said it was studying the ruling.

It was not immediately clear how much compensation the company will have to pay. That will be decided at a later date on a case-by-case basis.

The court case was launched by 127 residents near the northern city of Groningen who claimed they suffered emotionally because of the earthquakes, which have for years rattled homes — and their nerves.

Peter Huitema, a lawyer representing the victims, said he expects the ruling to trigger more claims.

"Now that it is clear all residents in the earthquake zone have a right to compensation, many more will seek it," Huitema said in a statement.

While earthquakes caused by the gas drilling are relatively minor, they have caused serious cracks and structural damage to thousands of buildings in the region. NAM already is paying to repair that damage.

The court ruling also said that the Dutch state was "careless" from 2013 until the end of 2015 because it ignored advice to order NAM to cut the amount of gas it pumped from the Groningen gas field. However, the court stopped short of declaring the government liable for damage caused as a result of the carelessness.

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