Tag Archives: Taranaki oil and gas

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

“It’s very personal”


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.



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


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. 

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.





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.


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.

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.”


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