Tag Archives: fracking

“It’s very personal”

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I haven’t posted about the petrochemical development all around us for some time. It is not that it has gone away. No sirree, not at all. It became a situation where I had to change my personal coping strategies.  Being asked to contribute a piece of writing for the ‘Frack Off’ exhibition that opened yesterday was a poignant experience, focusing my thoughts on what has happened in the area I call home and the extent of the personal impact. Which is why I titled this piece:

It’s very personal 

I live in a place more beautiful than I ever dreamed possible. It is also a place that is now in the evacuation zones for two separate well sites and not so far from another dozen sites on this side of the river. Fracking and petrochemical development is very personal for me. I live with it day and night. Every day and every night.

From 2012 to 2014, I worked with others campaigning for better management of rampant petrochemical development, fighting to save what remains of pre-industrial Tikorangi, the area where I live. It nearly broke me.

My adult daughter sent me an iPod so I could listen to music and shut out the environmental noise when outdoors, as I am most days. How ironic that one of my favourite tracks was the original version of ‘Ring of Fire’ at a time when we often had only one quadrant of the night sky that was not lit up by gas flares.

Oddly, it was a single word – solastalgia* – that enabled me to refocus my life and to learn how to live with the changes beyond our garden boundary. Naming a condition is a remarkably powerful tool and the discovery of solastalgia made me realise I was not over-reacting or going mad. I was in grief, desolated even.

I circled the wagons and looked inwards. Moving is not an option for us. The family roots go very deep here, back to 1870. Quite simply, this is our place to stand.

Petrochem is a sunset industry exploiting a finite resource. I hope I live long enough to see the day the companies exit Tikorangi. But if I am not alive, others will be resident in this place where I currently live. They will see the return of dark nights, unlit by the burning of gas flares and high intensity site lighting. They will listen to the return of silence – the absence of huge volumes of heavy transport, generators priming up to frack, the underlying roar of the gas flare, the sound of a drilling rig, the frequent helicopters and all the clamour that accompanies the fossil fuel industry.

Beyond the boundaries of our property, Tikorangi has changed forever, despite our efforts from 2012. The raising and strengthening of the roads for heavy transport has removed any vestige of usable road verge. The many installations above ground may be removed – the well sites and the pumping stations with their hostile security fencing, maybe even the high-tension pylons and lines. But the network of pipelines below ground, crisscrossing almost every local road and at times running the length of the road beneath the seal, will presumably remain.

None of us can know the long term impact of frequent fracking and deep well reinjection. Will the contaminants find their way closer to the surface? We have to hope that the companies and regulators are correct when they claim it is safe but this is recent technology and the bottom line is that nobody knows.  

In many ways my world has grown smaller. I used to look beyond those circled wagons to the wider community. I learned that in order to survive, I had to narrow my focus. At least this little area where I stand, ringed by trees, can endure.  

Solastalgia It is the ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. It is that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack.” (Glenn Albrecht, philosopher).

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

I feel honoured to have been invited to contribute to this exhibition – awed even, to be in the company of such New Zealand literary luminaries as Elizabeth Smither and David Hill, let alone the visual artists. But our Tikorangi corner was haunting for me, for we are on the front line.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

Fiona Clark is both a good friend and a neighbour. She is best known for her photography and has an exhibition opening later in April with American artist, Martha Rosler, at Raven Row in London. For ‘Frack Off’ she chose to go with an installation rather then photography and video.

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I add Fiona’s words, for those who wish to understand the significance of her display cases.

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Oh the irony, the irony, to walk out of the Frack Off exhibition and there, all along the main street of New Plymouth are flags and banners welcoming the upcoming petroleum conference. img_4232

Not MY New Plymouth. That is all I can say.

‘Frack Off’ has been curated by Graham Kirk whose own work is the Muppet poster. The exhibition is open until March 26 at the J D Reid Gallery at 33a Devon Street West which is down the bottom of the dip where the Huatoki Stream is piped beneath the the city, near the intersection with Brougham Street. 

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Our garden diary this week – from new year resolutions to lilies … to fracking (and bits in between). 09 January, 2017

Aurelian lily season has started

Aurelian lily season has started

We don’t do New Year gardening resolutions here. Much of our daily conversation revolves around gardening and environmental concerns and we know already that 2017 will see us heading further down the track of ecologically sound gardening – soft edged, romantic gardening in a more naturalistic style which adds to environmental eco-systems rather than battling with nature to keep a hard-edged, manicured garden. I am a bit worried that Mark’s growing tendency to embrace all aspects of nature may see him convert to Buddhism. I do not share his reverence for the lowly life forms like snails (he admitted he relocates these) and flies (which he liberates out the windows) but it is an extension of a gentler way of living. If we had a shared resolution, it would be to continue our efforts to tread more lightly on this land we occupy.

I did, however, decide I would discipline myself to keep garden records on a daily basis – in the old fashioned manner of a few simple notes in a diary. In days gone by, when I used to write for our local newspaper, I was contracted to provide a weekly list of advice on what to do in the garden. It often had us scrambling to follow our own advice. As a variation on that, I thought I would try a weekly post on what we have actually done in the garden. Retrospective, but recent, so to speak.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

We arrived home from a very hot festive period in Sydney and Canberra to an unusually cool summer in Tikorangi. The lush green appearance of home struck us afresh. While I am hoping we will get some hotter days, temperatures in the low 20s Celsius are more conducive to gardening. Mark has been playing catch-up in his vegetable gardens – hoeing weeds, sowing corn (“have you sown my basil yet?” I keep asking) and thinning and tying in his tomatoes. The main daily harvests are salad vegetables and peas – I eat my daily portions of the latter raw while he prefers his lightly cooked. We consume large amounts of fresh vegetables – the Heart Foundation would nod approvingly, I feel. This is the first year he has grown daikon, the Japanese white radish. Delicious is our verdict, though each specimen is quite large for a family of two.
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The raspberries are cropping a little late this year and I do not think we will get the usual volume that I freeze for later use. The strawberries are still producing but in smaller quantities and with smaller fruit.

On the rainy Tuesday, Mark summer pruned the grapevines which are grown under cover. I started the summer pruning of the wisterias – leave these to their own devices at your peril. The Higo iris in the park continue to flower and bring us great pleasure (nearing two months in bloom now) but it is the lilies coming on stream now. I picked the first of the Aurelian hybrids that Mark raised. These are currently in one of the vegetable gardens, pending the move to a permanent home in a new garden but in the meantime, I can cut them all I like without spoiling the display.

The floral display in late March

The floral display in late March

I have been lifting and replanting many of the belladonna bulbs by our main entrance. We grow these as a roadside wildflower. They are a bit strong and bullying to make a good garden plant and their flowering season is brief but they are an early autumn delight. The window of opportunity to lift and divide is narrow because they stay in growth for most of the year and I have been meaning to do this for some years. I discard all the small offshoots and bulbs. We don’t need more than we already have.

A vintage faggot binder

A vintage faggot binder

Because we have big clumps beneath a huge old eucalyptus that is one of the original trees here, replanting involves gathering up debris which we will use as fire-starters as winter. Some eucalypts shed a prodigious amount of stringy bark and twiggy growth. I want to say gathering faggots, for that is what the term used to be before the word became debased as sneering abuse. Because we lack the time-honoured faggot-binder that I photographed – enviously – in a Yorkshire garden, I stuff them in old sacks instead and stack them in the pine cone shed.

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Finally, the omnipresent petrochemical industry. I haven’t written about this in recent times for two reasons. Firstly the pressure lifted somewhat with a decrease in activity due to low global prices for oil and gas (click on the *Petrochem* tab on the top menu bar for more information on how very bad it was at its peak). Secondly, we had to learn to live with it or it would break us, as it nearly broke me three years ago. I have learned to look inwards to our own place – circling the wagons, I call it. Others may call it practicing mindfulness. But the industry grinds inexorably on. Today, they are loading out all the equipment from the latest round of “repairs and maintenance” on Mangahewa C site. You or I may call this fracking and refracking – repeatedly – but in the parlance of this new age, we were assured that this is now called “behind pipe opportunities”. Alas I am not joking.

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The Mangahewa C site flare last week. Photo: Fiona Clark

Fracking (to get the gas flowing again) is always followed by flaring and this wonderful image from last Saturday was captured by Fiona Clark. We live maybe 2km nearer to this site than she does so we get the benefit of the sound effects too. CO2 emissions and global warming, anyone? This is why I circle the wagons and look inwards to our own patch. The contrast could not be more extreme.

Not exactly circling the wagons - just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Not exactly circling the wagons – just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Tikorangi – the new Texas?

Next door - not quite the Tikorangi locals signed up for when they settled here

Next door - not quite the Tikorangi locals signed up for when they settled here

I can’t honestly say we are thrilled to learn of the deal between Todd Energy and Methanex which will see up to 25 wells drilled to frack the sub strata of the area where we live. Tikorangi isn’t very big and the first three wells are next door to us, with more scheduled to follow on the same site.

But we are pretty much alone in that. Industry thinks it is wonderful. Most Taranaki locals think it is wonderful because it brings jobs and money. The mayor thinks it’s wonderful. Somewhat disturbingly, the CEO of the regional council thinks it is wonderful (I say disturbingly because that is the body tasked with regulating and monitoring the industry’s activities and it is clear that they are very kindly disposed to the key players). The editor of the local paper thinks it is wonderful – which indicates that the paper will maintain its position of being the PR mouthpiece for the energy industry.

The bottom line is that the oil and gas industry may well be good for the national economy. It is certainly very good for the regional economy and means we have a superior class of cafe and restaurant in New Plymouth.

An increasingly common sight in our landscape

An increasingly common sight in our landscape

But there ain’t nuthin’ good for the locals who live by the sites. Nothing. At. All. They are ugly, industrial sites in the middle of rolling, green countryside. Drilling is noisy. The increase in traffic, especially heavy transport, has been major over the years. Flaring is abominable – flaring being the exercise of cleaning up the wells and testing the flows by igniting the gas. Considering there is nothing good for the environment in drilling either, I am somewhat surprised that the industry continues to get away with flaring. Don’t even try and tell me that anything I can do to reduce carbon emissions will help the planet – not when I live in an area where flaring takes place.

Over the years we have seen changes and some for the better. The first well drilled next door to us, maybe three years ago, was flared for many weeks on end. It was so bright, we could see the glow as we drove out of New Plymouth, 25km away. It lit our house all night. But worse was the noise – the constant, unabated, low grade roar which meant that living here was like living on the flight path to Heathrow, but this was 24/7. When you have lived for years in the relative silence and total darkness of the country, flaring has a huge impact on quality of life.

Flaring was greatly reduced for the second well on the same site and I am hopeful that the third currently being drilled (we can hear the rig grinding away in the quiet of the night and the morn), may see flaring reduced further.

Less high handed bullying from the companies is another change. We are lucky. We are dealing with Todd Energy who appear to be one of the better companies to deal with. I had thought the divisive bully-boy tactics of the petrochemical cowboys were in the past now (though only the relatively recent past) until I saw the media statements coming from another company on another site.

But we have also seen changes in the way the councils handle consents and the winding back on the definitions of affected parties. It is very difficult to convince councils that you are an affected party now and if you acquiesce and sign the agreement for one well, essentially you have signed away all rights to object in the future.

I have met with successive mayors and councils over about fifteen years, pleading with them to be more proactive in planning to mitigate the negative effects. They are terribly concerned and sympathetic and nothing happens. Planning, such as it is, remains completely reactive.

I have tried to get District Council to require, as part of the consents process, that sites be screened from public view by planting. I think they should only be visible from the air. High security industrial sites have no place in a rural landscape. Nothing has happened.

Today’s newspaper, where both District and Regional Council hail all the positive benefits of the economic boom gives me no confidence at all that any negative aspects will be even be acknowledged, let alone addressed.

I try not to look but in this case, it is both sides of the road. They should be screened from view.

I try not to look but in this case, it is both sides of the road. They should be screened from view.

So the gentle area where we live, a soft rural landscape with reasonably high density population and a solid core of very longstanding families, both Maori and Pakeha, will just roll with the changes as we have for the past decades. We will be the guinea pigs for fracking here. We will let you know if it does cause earthquakes or contaminate our water supplies. The ground below us is about to be fracked in every direction. We will adapt to the increase in traffic though we probably all hope that the ridiculous practice of laying gas pipelines down our roads and verges won’t happen again (how to cause maximum disruption to the largest number possible and completely without apology!) We will grit our teeth and only complain when the noise incidents get beyond the pale. And some of us will wait.

I think it likely that in a decade or two, all the viable reserves of oil and gas beneath us will be gone. The companies will pull out. The multitudes of small industrial sites I try not to look at will be reclaimed by long grass and then by other vegetation. Processing plants will be mothballed. The traffic will reduce and peace will return. I have to take the long view because the juggernaut that is the petrochemical industry rolls on unchecked in Taranaki in the short term.

The adjacent house is, I understand, still occupied by a very long term Tikorangi resident

The adjacent house is, I understand, still occupied by a very long term Tikorangi resident