Tag Archives: Petrochemical development

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.

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