A Dutch court on Jan. 5 upheld a government decision to cap production at the Groningen gas field, a step aimed at easing the risk of earthquakes triggered by drawing gas from the field, which is Europe's largest.

The court was responding to requests for a preliminary injunction against the June decision to cap annual output at 24 billion cubic meters (Bcm) until Oct. 1, 2021. Critics had sought a deeper cut or halt to production.

Output has been cut several times from 53.9 Bcm in 2013 as criticism mounted that Dutch authorities had failed to adequately assess the risk to citizens from earthquakes caused by production.

The government was formally censured by the country's Safety Board after a magnitude 3.6 quake hit the town of Huizinge in 2012--larger than had been deemed possible by NAM, the Shell-Exxon joint venture that oversees production.

Small quakes remain frequent in Groningen, and while no physical injuries have been reported, buildings across the region have suffered billions of euros in damage because they were never designed to withstand tremors.

The Council of State, the court which allows challenges to government decisions, said it saw no reason to alter the decision ahead of a broader case against Groningen gas field production that it will consider this spring.

Last year's decision capped production at 24 Bcm, down from a previous maximum of 27 Bcm. It includes the possibility to expand output back up to 30 Bcm if unusually cold weather were to jeopardize supplies for households in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium that depend on Groningen gas for warmth.

At the request of the Dutch Parliament, the cap is subject to annual review by the government in case technical or other developments make it possible to reduce production more quickly.

Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp has said that production at Groningen is expected to continue winding down as the Netherlands seeks to reduce CO2 emissions and its dependency on fossil fuels.

Germany has said it intends to speed up weaning households off natural gas; and in December, Kamp announced plans to ban gas heating from all new housing projects in the Netherlands.