It has been an interesting week with the Petroleum Summit in Wellington. Lesser folk have conferences, but this was, apparently, a summit. Interesting snippets were reported. Alarming snippets, even.
1) Minister of Energy, Phil Heatley, was reported as saying of protesters at the summit: “They will have arrived in cars and buses like everyone else and they are extreme”. “They are not really New Zealand. They have concerns but they are not really middle-class New Zealand”. “Protesters are against everything so don’t worry about them too much.”
The subtext might well be: “Our government only represents the middle class voter. These people aren’t going to vote for us so who cares about them?” It is such a breathtakingly naive statement that it must reflect his thinking.
But oh, we do get so irritated by that old chestnut of a simplistic argument: “You drive a car so you are a hypocrite if you ever complain. Lie back and think of Mother England and let the companies do what they wish.” As my partner says, he owns a gun but that doesn’t mean he thinks war is a good thing. The Minister reinforces the view that you are either with the companies – ergo progressive – or you are The Enemy. There is middle ground. It is possible to be critical of some of the companies’ practices without being opposed to oil and gas extraction in its entirety.
2) Still with our man at the Beehive, Minister Heatley assured the petrochemical delegates: “We like you. National likes you and we like what you do and we very much like what you do in Taranaki for the last 100 years, pretty much under the radar, with really no problem.” Right-o then. No probs. (Both those quotes from the Taranaki Daily News, Sept 20).
3) Mr Heatley’s government minions appear to be taking the same line. One Nick Hallett (chief adviser in the resources policy unit of the business, innovation and employment ministry – no capital letters used in the Dom Post where this was reported on Sept 20) is reported as saying that a way of convincing the wider country might be “getting Taranaki to go and speak to other Councils”. Best take care, Mr Hallett, that you chose the Right People from Taranaki to carry out that particular task. I can recommend just the person to do that job – ref point 6. You certainly may not be wanting to send any of the concerned lawyers who appear to be alarmed at the changing nature of contracts.
4) The Stratford Press of September 12 had an interesting article. A meeting of eight Taranaki law firms was convened to discuss concerns at some of the contracts they were seeing their landowner clients signing. “Once the agreement is signed, it is signed,” Mr Philip Armistead from Thomson, O’Neil & Co is quoted as saying, sounding a warning that the potential impact of not understanding what is being signed could be huge. “I have seen agreements where, for laying pipelines, access is also granted to land other than where the pipeline is being laid; some clauses in access agreements provide consent for other associated activities forever; and some limits the companies’ liability should something go wrong.” It used to be that a Federated Farmers contract was used as the basis for access but now there is an escalating trend for oil and gas companies to push their own agreements which are written to favour the company.
5) Board member for NZ Oil and Gas, Paul Foley, has no doubts that there needs to be better public relations for the petrochem industry to counterbalance the increasing levels of scrutiny and protest and, if the Dom Post reported him correctly on September 20, he knows who should be responsible for that PR push – the Government! In other words, the taxpayer should pay for PR to make the public more sympathetic, to discredit any objections and to force locals to grin and bear it.
6) Arguably the most outrageous of all were the comments to the summit by the CEO of Taranaki Regional Council, Basil Chamberlain, as reported in the Taranaki Daily News on September 20. He heads the body that is tasked with monitoring the petrochemical activities in Taranaki. He was apparently a “popular” speaker. I am sure he was, if the reporting was even halfway accurate. “In his address, Mr Chamberlain said oil and gas had a 150-year history here but was still seen as a ‘visitor’ in contrast to agriculture which had ‘full citizenship status’. ‘This status needs to change,’ he said”.
“In short, putting greenhouse gas emissions arguably aside, at this regional scale, across land, fresh water, air or coastal resources, the industry has negligible adverse impacts,” Mr Chamberlain is reported as saying.
Where does one even start? Probably with the breathtaking inappropriateness of the CEO of the monitoring body taking on a role of strong advocate for and supporter of the very companies his organisation is meant to be monitoring. Surely, the Taranaki Regional Council should be seen to be neutral on the matter? This is not the first time Mr Chamberlain has spoken out in support of the industry in Taranaki.
It is of course wilfully brazen to compare major companies, many with a strong multinational holding, to the traditional activity of family farming. Chalk and cheese come to mind.
7) How wonderfully ironic that the very same paper that lead its front page with Mr Chamberlain’s comments also ran a story on page 3 that very same day. There is a bit of a problem with contaminated soil at a Kapuni well site which has had to be trucked out of the province for specialist disposal. “Cleanup of the long-standing contamination at Kapuni well sites started with soil containing hydrocarbons and metals from fluids produced from the KA2 well site,” the paper tells us. It appears that this is the first of four sites to be cleaned up with reasonable urgency. “In the past, fluids from well operations were intermittently released into pits …. (which were) unlined… common industry practice at the time.” These days steel tanks are used, but one wonders how much residue is sitting round on old sites. It is not a comforting thought. But Mr Chamberlain (ref point 6 above) has told the industry that adverse effects are negligible so obviously nobody needs to worry. And Mr Heatley, (ref point 2 above) says there is really no problem.
And still, the local residents get ignored. Taranaki Regional Council certainly doesn’t care about them, even though they are ratepayers. And this National Government doesn’t give a toss either, if Mr Heatley’s comments are any indication. We are just part of the “negligible adverse impacts”.
I can’t be middle class after all. Not according to Mr Heatley. Clearly I’m not really a New Zealander either. In fact I don’t count at all because I am not such a fan of what is happening around me.