Tag Archives: Tikorangi Gaslands

Gardeners’ thoughts

Monarch butterfly on Montanoa bipinnatifida.

I have often said that because I garden a lot, I have a lot of solitary thinking time. “What do you think about?” a fellow gardener asked us here this week. I hadn’t actually thought about that side of things.

We are told that gardening is soothing, good for the spirit and the soul, a welcome antidote to a world that has often felt as if it is spinning beyond our control in the past year. I have no doubt that being surrounded by plants and the cycle of the seasons, by birdsong and the beauty of endless small scenes whether it be a butterfly landing on a flower, the buzzing of bees, the unfurling of a flower bud or the discovery of a plant that I had forgotten about – all these are immediate delights in a chaotic world. Gardens anchor us to a small place in time and space.

But if you take the end product and the goals along the way out of the equation, what about all those hours spent alone in our own headspaces? Our panel of three (Mark, our gardening friend Susan and me) is hardly a conclusive study but we all came up with responses that were remarkably mundane. Mark said he largely focuses on the task at hand. He used to like listening to the radio but since Radio NZ has taken its programming off the local AM band, that is no longer an option. The FM band is too unstable when he is constantly moving. I notice Lloyd mostly listens to music. I used to do that when I was trying to block out the omnipresent noise of the petrochemical industry surrounding us back around 2011 to 2014 and listening to music certainly puts one into a very contained headspace without many external influences. But I prefer listening to the sounds of nature if I can.

My thoughts range far and wide with a constant inner monologue (and sometimes an audible monologue when I talk to myself) but I admit, it is not a particularly profound discussion with myself. At its best, I may come up with the words that had been eluding me in a piece of writing or some clarity of insight into something that had seemed murky and confused. At its worst, I replay grievances in my head – whoever said that gardening is ‘soothing’ and ‘healing’? But in the main, it can be a pretty mundane conversation with myself and I was somewhat surprised to find that, considering I spend large parts of my day in this solitary state. I think that is what Susan was angling at too, when she asked the question.

Magnolia Felix Jury

Of late, in fact since Wednesday December 9 to be precise, that inner monologue has been underpinned by constant low-grade anxiety nagging away at my inner peace. That was the day that our *friendly* petrochemical company, Todd Energy, unveiled its plans at a community meeting in Tikorangi to apply to extend the already large Mangahewa C gas well site from the existing eight wells to twenty wells, making it the largest site in the country, as far as I know. That site is close to us. It is literally on the farm across the road on our bottom boundary.

Oh look. Mangahewa C site on the farm across our bottom road
Previous drilling as seen from our garden

While some of the Todd Energy staff might be so naïve that they didn’t realise the devastating impact of that news on many local residents, at least some of them knew exactly what they were doing. “Let’s really give the Tikorangi residents a Christmas present this year. Ho ho ho! Hahahahaha!” my inner monologue has some unnamed Todd staff saying to themselves and even to each other.

Flaring, as seen from our place. Climate change, anyone? Pfft!

I spent a few weeks in the garden toying with the Todd Energy Twelve Days of Christmas but I couldn’t get the words to scan to my satisfaction.

“On the twelfth day Of Christmas Todd Energy gave to us

Twelve more gas wells

Eleven more frack jobs (more like eleventy hundred more frack jobs over the next decade) ….

Five Christmas hampers (utility ones from Pak’n’Save)….

And a drilling rig they call Big Ben.”

We fought hard for better process of the gas industry in our community over a number of years – all documented under the petrochem tab you can find at the top at this page. We failed on most fronts and that battle from 2011 to 2014 almost broke me. The activities of the petrochemical companies were devastating on a daily front – it was the main reason we closed the garden in 2013 – as well as  draining mentally and emotionally. When activity eased off with falling international prices and the general understanding of the impact of climate change grew, we were lulled into a false sense of relief, thinking that maybe we had seen off the worst of it. It seems not.

In my lowest moments, I imagine myself asking the young person who is the ‘Community Relations Manager’: “Do you have children? What are you going to tell them when they ask you what you did to try and counter the impacts of climate change? Are you going to be proud to say ‘Oh, I did spin and soft-soaped local residents for a fossil fuel company in the dying days of the fossil fuel industry’?”

So there we are. My inner monologue now is trying to focus on how to maintain some equanimity and peace in the face of the ravages of an unwelcome industry. I managed it in 2014 when I realised how close I was to breaking point. I can do it again. I hope. It may be time to get out the iPod and recharge it, to block out the world. Are those Bluetooth earpieces worth getting so I can dispense with the awkward cords? Do they fall out of ears readily in which case I am sure I will lose one in the garden?

What do you think about when gardening? Can you empty your mind sufficiently to turn it into a meditative exercise? Do you mentally plan great works of note? Or do most of us really just plan what we will eat, edit our mental ‘to-do list’, ponder what we have heard or seen and focus on the detail of what we are doing? All that time to think – I feel at least some of us must be mentally coming up with next great scientific theory or planning a work of literature. Or maybe not.

Footnotes:

For the easier to read version of ‘It’s very personal’ – a piece I wrote for the 2017 Frack Off Exhibition, click here.

Our Labour government only stopped NEW permits for oil and gas offshore and in areas other than Taranaki. It is still allowed – encouraged, even, by some here.

All the optimistic talk of ‘clean hydrogen’ being pushed successfully by the fossil fuel industry is unproven technology predicated on the use of gas as a *transition* energy.

Gas is only *clean* (or clean-ish) if the emissions are measured only at the end-point user. There is nothing clean or sustainable about getting that gas out of the ground, keeping it flowing and getting it to the end-point user.

What makes the Mangahewa gas field economically viable is frequent and ongoing fracking (hydraulic fracturing). The ground beneath here has been fracked repeatedly since 2007.

Garden thoughts

Just another heavy transporter passing along one of our road boundaries. A particularly noisy one this Sunday morn.

I garden. A lot. So I have a lot of solitary thinking time. Never more so than this week when it has taken every ounce of my inner strength to maintain some equilibrium in the face of relentless heavy traffic from the gas well site on the farm across our bottom road. The company is ‘demobilising’ the workover rig that has been on site and that has generated as much, maybe even more, heavy transporters along our two road boundaries than at the peak of the bad days from 2011 to 2013. Once the rest of the rig gear has been moved out, the ‘well stimulation’ equipment will all be trucked in for four weeks of intensive fracking and flaring. Super! Yes we still carry out open air flaring and extensive fracking in this country. Worries about climate change apparently lie with somebody else, anybody else – a concern divorced from current, high-level activity.

This is why our garden is still closed to the public. Fortunately my coping mechanisms are better than they were during the bad old days, but it does take a lot of mental energy to keep some positivity and inner serenity, I tell you. Especially for one who is not naturally of a serene disposition.

The gnarly trunks of the aged Kurume azaleas. In the background, Mark has draped old shade cloth over the newly sown areas of grass to discourage the pesky rabbits and sparrows.

Back to gardening. I mentioned last week that I was doing a clean-out of the Rimu Avenue. I still am, though I have broken the back of it and am now working more on the margins, including the bed of venerable Kurume azaleas which are underplanted with cyclamen. This is another area that can be left pretty much to its own devices for extended periods of time but it looks better when I get in and clear out the regenerating growth from the base of the azaleas, take out dead wood and shake out the accumulation of leaf litter from the trees above that builds up in the canopy.

It is not really self-sustaining gardening. More like lower-input gardening. For those who like a bit of substance to your gardening reading, you may enjoy Noel Kingsbury’s latest post on the subject of so-called ‘natural gardening’. He is an English writer and a specialist in that new wave style of perennial gardening led by Piet Oudolf.

We have never talked about ‘natural gardens’. Naturalistic, yes, and we have played around with various other descriptors. Enhanced nature, romantic gardening, gardening WITH nature rather than trying to control it but maybe the one we use most is sustainable gardening. We try hard to reduce the negative inputs (spraying, chemical fertilisers, really high input labour practices, use of internal combustion engines for routine maintenance and suchlike). For us, sustainable gardening is also about being able to manage this place as we get older in the next couple of decades. We have no plans to leave in our old age. I anticipate that, like his father before him, Mark will be carried out in a wooden box and hopefully that will not be for another 20 years. So we have to be mindful of how we manage our acreage and what expectations we have of the garden.

Fairy Magnolia White has opened her first, fragrant blooms this week.

Mark sees it in simple terms. He thinks that we all like to be surrounded by pretty things and that is why he loves flowers and always has done. It is the prettiness – sometimes even astounding beauty – combined with nature that feeds his soul, and indeed mine.

It is perhaps the dearth of homegrown gardening TV programmes and Monty Don and BBC Gardeners’ World taking a break from our screens that drove him to start recording ‘Best Gardens Australia’. This is not gardening as we see it. In fact it has very little indeed to do with gardening. The plants are mostly added in the manner in which scatter cushions and a stylish throw might be added to complete the picture of a stylish sofa. It has a heavy infomercial component and big budget outdoor spaces, mostly dominated by the mandatory swimming pool, additional water features, hard landscaping on a grand and permanent scale (no matter how small the site) and… pavilions. Garden sheds, washing lines, wheelie bins and storage for bikes are not in evidence, but pavilions rule supreme. Along with ‘resort-style living’. In New Zealand, resort-style gardens tend to mean the intimacy and tropical look of small, Balinese hotels. In Australia, it means something very different – the Miami look of lots of stark, hard-edged white plaster and concrete.

The children’s summer house in a handsome Yorkshire garden

England has its summer houses and garden rooms and very charming many of them are, too. In New Zealand, we are generally more modest and less permanent and the gazebo is most common. I am not a fan of the gazebo as a general rule, with its tanalised pine construction and trellis decoration. We call them gazzybows. They are usually bought in kitset form and too often used as a ‘garden feature’, rather than to enhance the outdoor living experience.

The typical off-the-shelf gazebo

I am not sure at what point a gazzybow crosses over to a pavilion. I suspect you need a budget at least 10 times larger (maybe 20), space in similarly inflated proportions and block or concrete construction (plastered, of course). By the pool. With a full second kitchen, a dining set that can accommodate a minimum of 12 people to a sit-down meal and a barbecue that can roast all the cuts of meat from a beef beast to feed the many (many) friends that the pavilion owners have assembled. Mark was a bit stunned by the pavilion shown with a drinks fridge that would rival most upmarket hotels.

Never have we felt more like the poor relatives across the Tasman than when faced by the ostentatious wealth of ‘Best Gardens Australia’. We are more in synch with the gardening philosophies of the aforementioned Noel Kingsbury.

French style. My photo library is entirely lacking in images of contemporary Australian pavilions.

So in the spirit of sweeping generalisations, I tell you that if you are a modest New Zealander, you have a gazebo. If you are nouveau riche Australian, you have a pavilion. If you are British establishment, you have a summerhouse or garden room. If you are French, you have a little, aged, shabby chic café table and chairs.

Finally, the late afternoon light falls upon our maunga or mountain on the winter solstice – a sight which keeps us anchored firmly to this place where we live and garden.

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

The Ballad of Roading Steve

Another post about living in the Tikorangi Gaslands. Not plants and gardening but the other omnipresent aspect to our lives here.

 Three years ago, we were trying so hard to preserve something of old Tikorangi midst the ravages of petrochemical development. That included keeping the rural character of the roads and the immediate environment. Ha! We failed dismally, as witness these roadworks just past our place.

They are a reminder that staff at New Plymouth District Council were mostly just humouring us when they appeared to listen. Except for one memorable staffer who did not make any attempt to humour us. No sirree, he made it clear from the start that he was the boss-man and he did not need to be polite or listen to residents. What could we possibly know? He is not there anymore. He moved on some time ago. Or maybe he was shovelled out? The politer staff would nod and give a credible performance of listening attentively. But, as subsequent actions and policies show, they were not going to deviate from their chosen path.

And so this road *improvement* has gone ahead, no doubt at considerable expense. In vain did we plead for rural amenity to be preserved while meeting the roading needs of petrochemical development. Make no mistake about it. The whole purpose of this super-duper rural road is to service the petrochemical industry, not the locals. Sure, some locals will see a wider, faster, heavily cambered road as “progress”. They don’t care about being able to stand on the side of the road and have a chat to a passing neighbour. I bet they don’t get out of their cars long enough to ever want to walk along the road verge. Presumably they don’t have any children who might, in the past, have biked to school. I am also guessing that they have never lost any dogs to speeding traffic. All they want to do is to get in their vehicles and plant foot, to get to their destination as fast as possible. That is how they see the modern world of progress.

We are living with a soundtrack of constant machinery from 7am until dark, Monday to Saturday. It has been interesting to me for several reasons. It is like a little monument to our failure in trying to make any changes for the better. But I am not feeling blue. It reminds me how successfully I have drawn in my world, circled the wagons, to exclude what goes on beyond our boundaries. And I have coped with the constant noise with equanimity. Some level of mindfulness or just simple inner tranquillity can indeed create a protective cloak.

Roading Steve, the architect of these roadworks, has also gone from Council now. Moved on. But he left a legacy. The road WILL be wider, stronger and faster for this short stretch.

No matter that since those plans were being mooted, the speed limit here has been dropped by the very same council to 80km/h, slowing the traffic overall to a safer speed.

No matter that the petrochemical company has instigated a voluntary speed limit on its heavy transport of 60km/h on that very stretch of road.

No matter that the bottom has fallen out of the Taranaki oil and gas industry and it may never recover to the levels seen when Roading Steve thought this road *upgrade* looked like a good idea. Let us not forget that oil and gas is a twilight industry and public attitudes are changing to be less sympathetic.

Where the new road has to narrow to meet the old, down the dip and on an intersection

No matter that this bright, shiny, new bit of road will encourage traffic to speed up coming down the hill until it terminates on a relatively risky intersection and narrows to the old width to climb the hill outside our place.

The work must go on.  For such is the inexorable process of local body government. Once initiated, a project cannot, apparently, be stopped. And progress can be measured by wider, stronger roads to accommodate faster vehicles. For which we all pay through local and national taxes. It is why I have circled the wagons.

Our side of the hill remains untouched. For now.

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.

mhw-c

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.