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AMSTERDAM, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Gas production at the Groningen field in the Netherlands can continue as planned this year, the Dutch High Court said on Thursday, dismissing calls by angry citizens for an immediate halt due to earthquake risks.
The court, issuing a preliminary ruling, said it would reach a final verdict on production plans after it had heard 26 other complaints from local authorities and interest groups in April.
Decades of extraction in Groningen, once Europe's largest natural gas field, have led to dozens of minor tremors every year, damaging thousands of homes, sparking unrest among locals and prompting authorities to impose caps on activity.
The Dutch government last year said it would end production by 2030 and lower it as quickly as possible in coming years.
Output is set to drop to 19.4 billion cubic metres (bcm) in the year that began in October, down from a 2013 peak of 54 bcm.
The Groningen field is operated by a 50-50 joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil called NAM.
Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Dale Hudson and Susan Fenton