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AMSTERDAM, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The Netherlands will maintain current output levels at one of the world's largest gas fields while scientists study whether the operations risk causing more severe earth tremors than they have already, a minister said.
"If I cut production, then the effect will be felt in the Netherlands," the minister for economic affairs, Henk Kamp, told a parliamentary commission on Thursday, referring to the economic consequences of a reduction in gas output.
Several politicians - including members of the Labour Party which is part of the coalition government - have called for an urgent review of gas extraction in Groningen province following earth tremors in recent weeks of up to 3.2 magnitude, which caused cracks in some buildings.
The huge gas field near Slochteren in the north of the country has recoverable gas reserves of around 2.7 trillion cubic metres and is operated by Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij BV (NAM), which is jointly owned by Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.
Kamp told the commission he would wait for the results of investigations into whether gas production could trigger a more serious earthquake in Groningen before deciding whether to restrict it. The results of the studies are expected in December, he added.
"Waiting for the research doesn't mean we do not care about safety in Groningen," he said.
A reduction or halt in gas production would affect the state budget at a time when the Netherlands is struggling to meet the European Union's budget deficit targets.
The Dutch Meteorological Institute said the tremors occurred along fractures in the subsurface, and where gas extraction results in pressure differences along existing fractures in the gas fields.
Another method of gas exploration, so-called fracking for shale gas, has been in the spotlight after causing earth tremors in Britain.