UPDATE 1-Dutch PM says to reduce Groningen gas production further

(Updates with PM comments, details, background)

AMSTERDAM, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The Dutch government will seek to further reduce production at the Groningen gas field due to the earthquakes it causes, Prime Minister Prime Minister said on Friday.

“We have been reducing [production at Groningen] since 2012, from above 50 bcm (billion cubic metres per year) to 21 bcm, and the cabinet wants to cut further,” Rutte said. A large earthquake in Groningen earlier this week has brought new urgency to the government’s production plans.

After a 10 percent cut to an annual rate of 21.6 bcm of production for the year through October 2018, Rutte’s government had pledged before Monday’s earthquake that it would further reduce production to 20.1 bcm by 2020.

The government said after the earthquake it would seek a “substantial” reduction in production.

Economic Affairs Minister Eric Wiebes told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad on Friday that the government was looking at ways to further reduce production, but gave no time frame or specific target other than that a decision would be made before the end of March.

Field operator NAM and regulator SodM have both recommended a further cut to production in order to reduce the frequency and intensity of earthquakes in Groningen but have not specified how much they believe is possible.

Millions of Dutch households depend on Groningen gas for heating and cooking, and current production levels are close to what experts consider the minimum level possible while still guaranteeing supply.

“It’s difficult, because it means we must quickly switch to a different kind of fuel or sustainable solutions,” the paper quoted Wiebes as saying.

“We’ve agreed with each other to achieve as much reduction in the gas production level as possible in the short term.” (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)