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AMSTERDAM, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Gas production at the earthquake-prone Groningen field will drop by at least 75 percent in the next five years, ahead of schedule towards the projected end of extraction.
The Dutch government decided this year to shut down in 2030 what was once Europe's largest natural gas field because decades of extraction had caused dozens of earthquakes each year, damaging thousands of homes and buildings.
Production will drop below 5 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year from 2023, the Dutch government said on Monday, as measures to reduce demand for Groningen gas are working better than planned.
"We are ahead of schedule," Economy Minister Eric Wiebes said. "The end of gas production in Groningen is in sight."
Output is set to drop to 19.4 bcm in the year that began in October, already down 65 percent from its peak of 54 bcm in 2013.
In order to drive down output, the nine largest industrial users of low-caloric Groningen gas, who each use at least 100 million cubic metres per year, will be forced to switch to other sources of energy by 2022, Wiebes said.
Demand for Groningen gas will also be reduced by building extra capacity to convert high-caloric foreign gas to the low-caloric gas needed for the Dutch network, and by cutting exports to Germany.
Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Ed Osmond