Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

The latest rig near us, photographed from Ngatimaru Road

The latest rig near us, photographed from Ngatimaru Road


589 Otaraoa Road,
RD43, Waitara
jury@xtra.co.nz Phone 06 754 6671
December 30, 2012

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
PO Box 10-241
Wellington 6143
New Zealand

pce@pce.parliament.nz

Dear Dr Wright,
Hearing you speak on National Radio recently about your interim report on fracking was like a breath of fresh air. I refer particularly to your comment referencing the proliferation of industrial sites in the countryside and the impact on local residents.

It seems to me that two critical areas that have fallen through the cracks are:

1) The total absence of any public sector planning. Planning is all done by private companies and all the public sector does is to respond to applications by applying the relevant legislation. So there is no overview of development. The location, pace, nature and management are all determined by individual private companies.

2) With that has come the total absence of any public sector duty of care for local residents. Any care is entirely at the whim and discretion of private companies and woefully inadequate. Worse is that an ethos has developed which is deeply unsympathetic to complaints from local residents. At its most extreme, this takes the form of public vilification of individuals.

We are immediate neighbours to the Mangahewa C site in Tikorangi and every piece of heavy machinery passes along two of our road boundaries. The latest rig is both visible and, at times, audible to us. We have a large garden which we open to the public and the negative impact of recent development has been so extreme, that the company concerned ceases road operations when we have a coach tour booked in for a garden visit. At those times, it is as if the off switch has been flicked but it is a stark reminder of how bad things are the rest of the time. I now garden wearing an iPod in an attempt to mute the noise.

I have no confidence in the ability of local councils to effectively monitor and manage development and am frankly alarmed at suggestions that Taranaki be paraded as a model for successful practice. I have been lobbying for over 15 years for councils to take a more proactive role in managing development and mitigating the negative effects on local residents but the councils remain an impenetrable brick wall and appear oblivious to issues and, at worst, antagonistic to opposition and to complaints.

Of considerable concern is the publicly supportive position of the petrochemical industry taken by the CEO of the Taranaki Regional Council, Basil Chamberlain. I strongly believe that the CEO of the monitoring body MUST be seen to be neutral and independent.

Fracking has been taking place on the adjacent property for about three years now but it was only this year, and only at our request, that testing of our bore water started. Yet apparently we have the only deep water bore close to that site. Three years to set monitoring in place is not best practice.

Definitions of affected party zones appear to be at the discretion of councils. Fifteen years ago, it was a one kilometre radius. At some point, Regional Council apparently contracted that zone to 300 metres, New Plymouth District Council even less. In the countryside, 300 metres is not far at all. This has had the effect of hugely reducing the number of people defined as “affected parties” which is decidedly beneficial for the companies but has only negative effects on local residents.

Consents are for such a long time that much can change in the interim, including environmental expectations, yet it appears that the conditions of the original consent stand for the duration. I understand old sites have been reopened under original consents. Too much reliance is placed on the “goodwill” and “good practice” of the companies to respond to issues during the consented periods. And once consent is given, it sets the precedent for renewal.

When the Mangahewa C site was first applied for, I had to fight hard to be ruled an affected party. The NPDC planning officers were unhelpful and uncooperative in the extreme. Once we had that status, we were presented with a document to sign. We wanted to sign consent for the first well only and then review it. We were told that was not an option and unless we signed unconditionally, it would go to the Environment Court and that we would have to fight it there. Nobody suggested we seek independent advice.

I could not face the time and energy it would take to go to the Environment Court so we signed. I have only recently found a copy of the information which prompted us to sign. Our concern was traffic. We were informed that there was a remote possibility of up to 8 wells being drilled over a 20 year time span and that once drilling commenced, a maximum of 3 heavy vehicles and 8 light vehicles a day would pass our road boundaries. Once in production, the light vehicle movements would drop to 3 per day, the same as heavy vehicles. I recall it seemed churlish to be difficult over a mere 6 additional vehicles a day passing us.

In the time since that affected party consent was signed, one initial exploratory well has ballooned out to at least 9 additional planned wells (we are on to number 3) on the neighbour’s property and a further 8 multi well head site down the road, all over the next 5 years. That makes 19 or 20 wells over a period of 7 years (far from the “unlikely possibility” of up to 8 over 20 years). Every piece of transport passes our two road boundaries with a sharp 90 degree turn and a hill so the huge volume of trucking movements could not be noisier and more intrusive.

We are now assuming that in the references to between 6 and 11 additional vehicles each day during drilling and production phases, they omitted to add the important words: “before 7.30am each day with an unspecified number thereafter”. That is closer to what our reality is now.

Compensation for landowners and affected parties should not be left to the discretionary largesse of individual companies who often ring-fence it with confidentiality agreements.
It is not appropriate to think that continuing to allow the companies to play Santa Claus is all that is required. Too often, for affected parties it merely consists of a hamper here, free tickets to a show there, maybe tickets to Australia for an event if they really like you.

The development levies back in the days of Think Big projects may not have been a perfect system of recompensing on a larger scale, but they did at least keep grants at arm’s length. The current system where individual companies get to make grants is all too redolent of Santa Claus again and raises doubt about the independence of recipient councils. Todd chose to make a generous grant to New Plymouth District Council for their favoured project of the new Len Lye Centre. As a result, I doubt very much that any NPDC councillor is going to be critical of anything that company does.

Over fifteen years ago when it first became clear that our district may face enormous petrochem development, I sat in the then mayor’s office with her and the town planners and pleaded with them to adopt a proactive position in planning for the potential development. I pointed out to them that there was nobody else to look after the interests of local residents and that the current model of the petrochem companies picking off areas and then working with individual landowners locked in to confidentiality agreements had the effect of pitting neighbour against neighbour.

Nothing happened and the only thing that has changed is that the development is happening.

I attempted several times to raise the same matters with the next mayor and also presented a submission to the full council showing them what the effect was and begging them to look into what could be done to minimise the negative effects for local residents. They commissioned a report but nothing changed.

I have given up trying to talk to councils. There is no will for councillors and their officials to see anything negative.

If you are back in this area, we would be very pleased to meet you and to take you to visit some of the other affected residents in our immediate area. That is considerably more than anybody connected to the local councils has ever done.

I have posted four blogs to my website, if you are interested in reading any of these.

1) No problems with petrochem development in Taranaki???
2) Living in petrochemical heartland
3) Tikorangi Notes; Friday 20 January 2012
4) Tikorangi – the new Texas?
5) And three short You Tube clips attempting in a minor way to catch the flavour of what living here is now like.
Relentless noise
The Park, Tikorangi the Jury Garden
Rimu Walk, Tikorangi the Jury Garden.
Yours sincerely,
Abbie Jury

NB This letter replaces the earlier letter dated December 4. In the time since, we have discovered there are to be an additional 17 wells drilled close to us by Todd Energy over the next 5 years. I also found a copy of the “affected party” consent we signed in 2006 and the information provided which led to us signing that consent.

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