Despatches from the frontline in Tikorangi Gaslands

Todd Energy’s Mangahewa D site, April 15 this year. Photo credit: Fiona Clarke

I have not written much about the oil and gas industry all around us in the last few years. This does not mean it has gone away. Not at all. It is a sign of me deciding to take better care of my mental health and to look inwards to our own patch of earth where we can largely control what happens. Continually banging one’s head against a brick wall takes its toll. And the global decline in prices slowed the intense activity which had reached intolerable levels by 2013.

The recent announcement by our new government flags change for the fossil fuel extraction industry. For us, personally, it changed both everything and nothing.

It changed nothing in that the government announced an end to new permits for offshore drilling and to new land permits for everywhere else in the country, except Taranaki. So it changes nothing for Taranaki – all permits will be allowed to run their course and some new ones will be offered even though company interest in new areas had waned long before this change in policy. Essentially, it is a message to Taranaki that it has 30 years max to transition away from its economic dependence on fossil fuel extraction.

The reaction locally was instant and entirely predictable. Headless chooks or Chicken Licken come to mind. “The sky is falling!” “This is the end for Taranaki. Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights.” “This move will increase our emissions and accelerate climate change.” Yes, the conservative Opposition really do claim this. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good bit of fearmongering to political advantage. “We didn’t see this coming,” bleated Tag Oil. And our local mayor expressed similar, surprised outrage. They must have had their eyes shut for the indicators have been flashing red, warning lights all around the world in recent times. Our government is not acting in isolation.

Global warming, anyone? Flaring gas is commonplace here. This is MHW D site again, in March this year. Photo credit: Fiona Clark

And in some ways, the announcement has made things worse for us in the short term. Todd Energy, the company that has the highest impact on us personally, has dramatically lifted their level of activity around here. It is not quite as bad as it was in the horror years of 2010 to about 2013 but some days it feels as though it is getting back up there. It is difficult not to believe that Todd Energy are going for it as hard as they can, while they still can in order to extract as much of the profitable gas as quickly as they can. We may be in for another rough spell in the next few years.

But also, everything has changed. The oil and gas industry is no longer the glamour boy of the economy. Now its very social license to operate* is moving from being set in concrete, to wobbling about in jelly and on a definite trajectory towards going up in a puff of its own smoke. Excuse the mixed metaphor. Time is running out for it, for the times they are a-changin’.

At last, I feel we are on the right side of history and not just an outlier on the fringes. While any move to put the brakes on fossil fuels and to foster changes to more sustainable practices will continue to get a hostile response from many in Taranaki, the move against maximising the dollar at the expense of the environment and the very future of the planet is gaining strength. New York City is suing the big petrochemical companies over climate change.  Much of Europe is setting tight time limits on fossil-fuelled vehicles. The world’s largest fund managers are quitting their investments in fossil fuels at an accelerating rate. Other countries are also banning new fossil fuels exploration – France, Denmark, Costa Brava, Ireland, Belize.   Our world is changing at an extraordinarily rapid rate.

Just another LPG tanker flashing past our gateway. The high volumes of heavy transport have a huge impact.

Occasionally, in moments of self-flagellation, I dip into the local social media comments on this recent change in government position. I usually back out very quickly. It is generally old men who declare our dynamic, young woman prime minister as “an air-head with no policy who will be booted out next election”. The transfer of power to a new generation is clearly a challenge. I have no patience with the person who was greatly concerned with the future of the gas-powered barbecue. Also those sneering types who think it is up to ‘the Greenies’ to come up with viable energy options which are a like-for-like substitute before they will decide if they, personally, will make a transition. It will not come down to personal choice in the end. My greatest scorn is for the nitwits who like to target anybody who cares about the environment and belittle us as ‘hypocrites’ because we still use vehicles and phones and wear some synthetic clothing. The subtext is: “you are hypocrites so I do not need to do anything at all to change my ways”. I will derive some personal satisfaction from seeing these nay-sayers dragged into the 21st century. Maybe at some point they will make the connections between their beloved fossil fuels and increasing severe weather events and climate change, rising sea levels and the escalating erosion of our coastline, insurance companies refusing to cover vulnerable properties and all the rest of the related effects. Maybe it will dawn upon them that the degradation of our fresh waterways as a result of excessive nitrogen leaching can also be traced to a large extent to our use of gas to make cheap fertiliser from the 1980s on.

I am proud of a government that has been brave enough to set new policy that recognises the need to change. I appeared as a witness in a case before the Environment Court recently. Taranaki Energy Watch are challenging the loose rules set by a local body in managing oil and gas development. It was an oddly empowering experience, telling the three Commissioners what the impact of the development has been on us personally. I realised it was the first forum I have spoken in where attitudes were not already entrenched.

“What would you like to say to Todd Energy?” asked one of the commissioners. I had to think for a few moments before replying. “Goodbye,” I said.

I hope I live long enough to see that happen. With the recent change in government policy, I think it is now a matter of how soon it will happen.

*What Is the Social License? The Social License has been defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval within the local community and other stakeholders, ongoing approval or broad social acceptance and, most frequently, as ongoing acceptance.

I keep my eyes looking inwards to our own space as much as possible

17 thoughts on “Despatches from the frontline in Tikorangi Gaslands

  1. nays

    “At last, I feel we are on the right side of history”
    That’s exactly how I feel. After nine years I have started to be a little bit proud of my country again, instead of deeply ashamed.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We were in conversation with a Frenchwoman and a Canadian (in France) last year and both Mark and I were so envious of their positive optimism with their new leaders, as we despaired about what was happening in our homeland. It was my first trip overseas when I have been ashamed of my country so yes. I know what you mean.

  2. Marion

    I hope the petrochemical guys slow down soon in your area. I can so relate to that looking inwards, avoiding social media comments thing from my post earthquake experience in Christchurch. The comments so quickly went from helpful information sharing to ill informed anger and bitterness. So bad for mental well-being of the givers and the receivers.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      A Christchurch friend commented a while ago about the similarities of grief and distress between what has happened there and what happens here at its worst.

  3. Hawi Winter

    Very well written, Abbie! The fossils amongst the politicians (local and Parlament) love fossil fuel because of convenice. Making money by destroying the planet is just unethical.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thank you. And yes. I have seen the fervent lobbying by vested interests (gas as a ‘clean transition energy’ – bah humbug) and I was not at all confident that this new government would be brave enough to make a stand and signal the time for change. But they did and I am heartened even though I live on the front line of gas extraction.

  4. Raewyn Mackenzie

    Great column Abbie .. I definitely am a greenie .. and proud to be that . Yet I know very little of this day to day living with the industry .. even though I’m just in auckland .. not so, so far away .

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I can not understand why caring about the environment is so maligned by a certain sector. The word Greenie should be a compliment not abuse!

  5. tonytomeo

    I have always tried to be open minded in regard to such issues. I know that we need petroleum products, and that the economy of many regions depends on it. There are several ‘oil towns’ in California. Oklahoma depends more on the petroleum industry than most other states. There is even an oil well at the State Capital in Oklahoma City. I kept this in mind while I was there a few years ago. The oil wells everywhere did not bother me at all. Really. What bothers me now is the fracking that was supposed to not be at all detrimental to the environment. For a while, the region of Oklahoma where we were, which happens to be where the fracking is happening, got as many earthquakes as we got here! Earthquakes are extremely rare there, so were quite damaging when they happened. They were all minor, but we could not help but wonder what could potentially happen. They started when the fracking started, and subsided when the fracking was restricted, yet the industry that does it denies that the earthquakes are at all related to the fracking. I want to believe it, but can not. What bothers me more is that if these lies are so blatant, I wonder what else do the lie about?!? Wow, I am sorry for another rant. I will keep it brief next time.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Every well here is fracked. Repeatedly. I have no idea how many separate frack jobs have been carried out on the big site on the farm next door where they have eight wells (or really nine because one is a massive sidetrack) – well over 100, I would guess. It is the only way they can keep the gas flowing. So it is ongoing, high intensity intervention for the life of the well. And, as far as I know, the connection between fracking and earthquakes is widely accepted now, except by some in the industry. The scary part about the quakes is where areas are getting larger quakes over time. I think some have been recorded over 5 on the Richter scale in otherwise geologically stable areas in Australia and USA. Do not get me started on company lies. These can range from bare-faced porkies through to simply being economical with the truth. Very economical. But the bottom line is that these are companies whose motive is profit, no matter what.

      1. tonytomeo

        5 may not seem like much, but has been remarkably destructive in parts of Oklahoma that are not built for them. (Many buildings are constructed with brick.) Okay, I will not get into another rant. I should not have started it in the first place.

      2. tonytomeo

        (Ooops. After reading that I realized that ‘5’ sounds more like the quantity rather than the quality, as in 5 on the Richter Scale.)

  6. Helen Clotworthy

    Thanks for hanging in there Abbie, I have appreciated reading your comments. We live in an area where developers over the years have thought it a good idea to move into our space. It takes courage to speak out and stick to your beliefs

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thanks, Helen. Sadly there is a price to pay for standing up and I feel that price has been high. But it helps to feel one is on the right side of history. I can well imagine that Pokeno is under siege from developers – sympathy and solidarity!

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