Tag Archives: oil and gas industry

No problems with petrochem development in Taranaki????

Don't worry. No probs here in Taranaki. Apparently.

Don’t worry. No probs here in Taranaki. Apparently.

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.

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