Living in petrochemical heartland

Heavy transport passing our entrance

Heavy transport passing our entrance

Because we live in the country, free farming newspapers appear in our letterbox. They can be surprisingly interesting, even to a non farmer like myself. An article in the latest Farmers Weekly (Sept 10) caught my attention. The chief executive of the NZ Petroleum Exploration and Production Association was reported.

“Chief executive David Robinson says ‘passionate’ climate change campaigners had set out to create a bleak picture of the industry….

There had been exploration in NZ for more than 100 years and industry had been working ‘extremely well’ in and around farming country in Taranaki for several generations.

Good relationships had been formed, characterised not only by compensation for farm access and improved entranceways.”

Really?

I am sure the industry is pleased with how well things are going around the farming country in Taranaki. That is because locals are, in the main, astonishingly polite and stoic. But I wonder if those industry people have even bothered to ask local residents how well it is working for them? In fact, I doubt that they could even find one local resident who would say that their life has been enhanced by the developments but they could find many whose lives have been adversely affected.

What really beggars belief is the rewriting of history. The bully-boy tactics employed by some of the petrochemical men is still very recent. I wish David Robinson had been a fly on the wall when a sick, elderly man in his seventies from down the road sat at our dining room table and explained why he had signed a consent for Fletcher Challenge (a planned development in the heart of Tikorangi that we actually managed to stop). You see, he’d been told that if he didn’t sign, they’d hop over the fence to his neighbour’s property and he didn’t trust his neighbour. He thought he’d have more control if it was on his own place. And pitching neighbour against neighbour was common practice, compounded by confidentiality agreements.

I sat in public meetings and heard the same petrochem men tell bare-faced lies.

New power pylons marching over the landscape, solely to service the petrochem industry

New power pylons marching over the landscape, solely to service the petrochem industry

I wish David Robinson had been present when another neighbour wistfully said to me earlier this year that she just wished the company would come and sit in her lounge and see what they now look at out their window. See, they built their dream home on family land with soaring views across farmland to the sea. Now they are the closest house to a major industrial development which is undergoing construction 24/7 and that is what they see and hear from their lounge.

Because we protested so publicly about the earlier Fletcher Challenge proposals, the accompanying seismic survey saw the helicopters on a flight path directly above our house. The choppers started as early as 5.30am in the morning, even on Good Friday, and continued all day. It was highly illegal flying over our house with loads suspended below and we believe it was also deliberate intimidation by subcontractors. There was nothing we could do. We don’t forget.

Around that time, another neighbour from up the road who had a lot of well sites on his farm rang me and said he couldn’t speak out publicly because he was in so deep with the companies but I should stick to my guns. I still recall his telling comment: “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have let them in at the beginning”.

The site of the Otaraua protest

The site of the Otaraua protest

When Otaraua hapu staged a protest over many weeks on Ngatimaru Road a couple of years ago, the company involved simply did not have a clue how deeply insulting it was to turn up with a slab of beer for them. Otaraua had declared their occupation site drug and alcohol free and I recall a gentle kuia saying to me: “What next, beads and blankets?” Because of course the unspoken implication in the beer was that they were Maori so they would be partying and boozing.

It is not a proud history of cooperation at all. At least that bully-boy stuff is not as common these days. I think we have three, maybe four companies operating around our area. We are in Todd territory ourselves, and for that we are grateful. There are conversations around the area as to which company is better to deal with and there appears to be some consensus that we are lucky to be in Todderangi. They don’t bully, they are courteous and communicative. But that communication is simply telling us what they are going to do – the next intrusions on our formerly quiet country area. The impact remains very high.

Our quiet country roads here are now like main highways with large amounts of traffic and constant heavy trucks. Every one passes along one of our road boundaries and about 50% of them pass along two. And lucky us, the roads are being upgraded so the traffic can travel even faster. We have adjacent properties, separated by the main access route – there are many times now when crossing that road is downright dangerous.

Cos every farmer yearns for an "improved entranceway" like this bisecting the farm?

Cos every farmer yearns for an “improved entranceway” like this bisecting the farm?

The "improved entranceway" opens from this small country road

The “improved entranceway” opens from this small country road

The photo above is of the neighbour’s “improved entranceway”. It meets a small country road. Because every farmer covets an “improved entranceway” like this, don’t they, Mr Robinson? Except it is not the entranceway to the farm, it is a security controlled access to a major well site development and it actually bisects the farm.

Compensation for farm access is mentioned as a benefit. I don’t know what the current going rate is for compo but it certainly used to be pathetically low. It is hard to find out the figures because usual practice is for the companies to lock the landowner into a confidentiality agreement.

I do know that the most recent going rate for a seismic survey shot hole was $12 (2012 prices). For that, the company’s contractors get to bring a drilling rig onto your property and from then until the explosive charge is detonated, which may be a couple of weeks later, the affected paddocks can’t be grazed. This causes problems for farmers’ grazing cycles. Then there are the helicopters working on the survey, any hour of the day, any day of the week. For $12 a shot hole? Ridiculous. Seismic surveys are one of the most intrusive aspects for the largest number of people.

To the left is one of our road boundaries. Below right is the neighbour across the road. Until earlier this year, it was well treed, including mature kahikatea and tawa. That was all cleared to make way for huge power pylons to bring a secure power supply to the petrochem developments. We are lucky. We can’t see this from our property but others are not so fortunate. Their rural outlooks now feature pylons marching across the landscape. And guess what, the stringing of the wires was done by helicopter. It felt like Apocalypse Now living here on those days.

So please don’t tell us that everything is hunky dory here and always has been because it isn’t. There is just nothing we can do about it. Mr Robinson might do better to come and talk to locals here, rather than only talking to companies and to the overly sympathetic councils in Taranaki. I very much doubt that the elected councillors understand at all what the impact is like for locals. They are just thrilled to accept financial gifts for civic projects which are some distance away in New Plymouth. And councils have abdicated any planning role. Basically what they do is approve applications from the companies.

All that is without even touching on the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction and the controversial practice of fracking.

In the meantime, I offer drive-by tours of the petrochemical developments in my local area to anyone that is interested. You can see very clearly what the negative effect is for locals. And frankly, nobody seems to care much at all about that and Mr Robinson reinterprets history to give a rosy glow to petrochemical development in Taranaki.

For an earlier post on this same topic, check “Tikorangi – the new Texas?”

Helicopters are part of it all

Helicopters are part of it all

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13 thoughts on “Living in petrochemical heartland

  1. Diana Kenny

    Good on you Abby, I am sick and tired of the blatant lies told by those that should know better simply to put their own spin on things. In the meantime the general populace is dumbed down with “reality shows” instead of investigative journalism.

    Keep up the good work of informing everyone of the truth.

  2. lovethybike

    Great to hear what the locals think about the whole process! I am tired of hearing what the politicians and councils think… More air time for the locals so their opinions can be HEARD. I believe it is time that all New Zealanders are made aware of what is happening to the green green grass of home. Maybe then changes can be made before it is too late?

  3. Paul Bailey

    Crickey. So it’s not just Sarah Roberts that has an issue with the oil companies? Who would have thought going by media reports from the Taranaki Regional Council. Very well articulated Abbie.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      No, it is certainly not just Sarah Roberts. Though I have given up banging my head against the brick wall of Taranaki’s councils. And I don’t focus my energies on opposing fracking because that is just one aspect of the bigger picture. Unfortunately the debate has now been narrowed down to just fracking whereas I think it is at least as much a failure of councils to do any planning and to take any interest in how it all impacts on locals (who are their ratepayers).

  4. Climate Justice Taranaki

    Fantastic blog, Abbie, good on you for writing this and for offering “drive-by tours” of the petrochemical heartland! I agree totally that fracking is just a tiny part of the huge problem of the fossil fuel industry and indeed the way our governments ignore social and environmental well-being in their planning and management of public resources. Re confidentiality agreements, there is nothing in the Crown Minerals Act (CMA) that allows companies to insist on such documents when requesting land access. It’s just a tactic to isolate landowners and keep deals secret. Importantly, it seems the only way out of an access agreement (by negotiation or arbitration) is to plant crops (fruit trees, vines, shelter belt) across your property. Check out some good information on the Crown Minerals Act on http://climatejusticetaranaki.wordpress.com/what-you-can-do/

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I see we are on the same page on this. My concern is that as long as people fight primarily on the fracking issue, everything else gets sidelined and ignored. And it is a source of intense irritation to us, in fact anger, that the petrochem companies get to play Santa Claus – dispensing a little largesse (very little in the greater scheme of things). A trip to see the All Blacks play for some, a grant for the new Len Lye Centre to NPDC (that bought a lot of good will in some quarters but not in Tikorangi which is most affected), a bit of payout over there. A hamper here, a few bottles of wine there. It should not be left to the companies to decide who gets what sweeteners.

  5. Haana Wilcox

    Thank you very much Abbie for making this information available – landowners in our area facing the first test wells in Southern Hawkes Bay need to hear this. I think it is really important that people share their stories as you have, which in turn will make it easier for others to tell theirs, and then for others to change the story. A determined group of farmers east of Dannevirke is working hard right now to change the story that the Tag Oil/Apache joint venture has planned. New Zealanders, particularly rural ones, tend to be awfully polite and accommodating to a point, and then they are awfully stubborn. These families are past polite and accommodating! I’m not sure that our government knows what it has unleashed.

    Because many people are not able to tell their stories because of confidentiality agreements, I had wondered about collecting stories without names, or using invented names. The purpose would be to share these stories with people weighing up the costs and benefits of signing an access agreement. Originally my idea had been to just focus on this area (Hawkes Bay / Tararua), but it would be much more useful if we had Taranaki ones as well. Do you think people might be prepared to do this in a way that wouldn’t breach their agreements?

    Since my mother was first approached for an access agreement last year, our focus has always been on oil exploration and all that entails, not just fraccing. It is a relief to at last hear others on the same track.

    Thank you again Abbie.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dear Hanna, I have followed Tag/Apache’s public statements with considerable unease. It all sounds a bit too much like the bullying ways of old – you’re either with them or you are the enemy and they will do all they can to discredit the opposition. That is why we are so grateful we are dealing with Todd! Judging by Phil Heatley’s reported comments at the petrochem summit in the paper this morning, it appears the government is going to support the petrochem businesses over all else. There is a lot of work in collecting stories and it is a history worth recording at some stage. I wonder whether it isn’t a greater priority at the moment to lobby local councils (the CEO of Taranaki Regional Council was also reported today as speaking to the same conference in full support of petrochem development – he should be neutral. TRC is the monitoring body, for goodness sake!). So much is in the hands of local councils who are singularly ill-equipped to cope with it. Increasingly, we think the message to landowners should be: DON’T. SIGN. ANYTHING. Similar to Shut The Gate. There is a desperate need for good, independent information for landowners. While petrochem development is unlikely to stop, there must be more safeguards built in for local residents to mitigate the negative effects. And there is no doubt that the more pressure there is, the more the companies clean up their act.

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  7. John Sharland

    Hi Abbie
    Thank you for your time on 14 November. If there is one piece of advice I can offer landowners that are approached by petrochem companies and that is to decline accepting any sort of confidentialty clauses in agreements. These companies have no power to insist on them, they are not legally required to have one and all they do is restrict landowners being able to discuss and compare notes with neighbouring and fellow landowners and the reason is obvious – $$$$’s. The Crown Minerals Act nor any other act for that matter contain an ability for entities such a petrochem compnaies to require confidentiality. It is vitally important that landowers do talk to their neighbours and any other landowners that are offered an agreement to gain access to their land and as part of that process it is critical landowners seek expert advice before they agree to anything – verbally or in writing. I have for too long seen affected parties being given the stare by likes of petrochem companies to sign agreements when in fact they have is some cases nearly signed their lves away with it. If anyone wants more on this, please email me on john@propertyresource.co.nz.
    John Sharland

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I could not agree more on your comments about rejecting confidentiality clauses. It has been a major barrier to neighbourly discussion for decades and even now, you can still see the veil of silence descend when landowners think they may be breaching their confidentiality agreement. There is nothing so effective at pitching neighbour against neighbour and preventing dialogue and communication.

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