Tag Archives: Tikorangi Gaslands

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.

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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.

Lessons from the Tikorangi Gaslands

The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Flaring on Mangahewa E site down the road. Photo: Fiona Clark

The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Flaring on Mangahewa E site down the road. Photo: Fiona Clark

Never. Sign. Anything. No matter how careful you think you are being, you are signing away all your rights including future rights to things you may not even know are in the picture. We have signed two consents and have been badly burned on both. Ours is not an isolated story.

If you don’t sign, they will go ahead anyway if they possibly can. But at least you haven’t signed away what few rights you may have.

Being nice to a petrochemical company does not mean you will get a better deal. Better deals go to those who are the hardest negotiators. It is likely the reason why a petrochemical company insists you sign confidentiality agreements is because they do not want you comparing notes with your neighbours where you may well find they have negotiated a much better deal than you have. By way of example, when it comes to payments to farmers for the installation of gas pipelines across their land, a reliable source has told me he has seen agreements where the daily rate is four times higher than the base rate that is initially offered and accepted by most farmers.

Some may be grateful for a hamper containing Bluebird salt and vinegar chips and housebrand Pam's  Christmas mincemeat tarts

Some may be grateful for a hamper containing Bluebird salt and vinegar chips and housebrand Pam’s Christmas mincemeat tarts

Some people go all out for whatever compensation or sweeteners they can get – and sweeteners come in many forms starting with modest Christmas hampers. A few refuse to touch anything. Most will take the sweeteners but, because compensation is rarely offered, they are too polite to demand it. We have never been offered or asked for compensation. In the past we have accepted some minor sweeteners. Whether you want to go all out for whatever you can get, whether you want to accept, maybe even be grateful to the company for sweeteners or whether you prefer the chilly moral high ground of refusing all such offers is entirely personal choice.

Save your home baking for friends and family

Save your home baking for friends and family

Somehow it is more upsetting to be trampled by a petrochemical company when you have allowed their people into your house to talk to you. When the company man or men have sat at your dining room table on a number of occasions, drinking your coffee and eating your home baking, the sense of betrayal feels very personal indeed. I know some residents who will not let them past the doorstep and others who insist on meeting on neutral territory because they don’t want them on their property. I can certainly understand that last position now. These company representatives are not your friends and it is fine to suspend old fashioned rules of hospitality in this situation.

Keep records including notes of all interactions. Never delete emails. File all paperwork. Keep diary notes. You never know when you might need to refer to them. Do not make the mistake of assuming your emails to your *friendly* petrochemical company criticising Council will remain with that company. You may find them in your Official Information Act pack from Council, showing that the company has forwarded them on to the Council. I have.

When a company approaches you for your signed consent, never assume you are being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What you are told is likely to be well short of the whole truth. It will be best case scenario for you – but not the company whose best case scenario is very different. And nobody checks what they have told you to get your signature so if, in time, it proves to be inadequate or inaccurate, you have no recourse whatsoever. Because in signing, you signed away your rights.

The way things used to be

The way things used to be

"Just a single well. Probably."

“Just a single well. Probably.”

Or it could be a behemoth of a modern site

Or it could be a behemoth of a modern site

If a company leads you to believe that it will just be a little site – “you will hardly know we are there” one company is reported as saying – do not make the mistake of thinking you will get a little old-style site with a few pipes coming out of the ground and no noise or disruption. Modern sites are different, as evidenced by this behemoth of a site down the road from us and the even larger one on the farm next door. Check what they tell you against their applications for consent. Sometimes they are different. There is a big difference between “we are just going to drill one well” and their application for the full suite of eight wells plus production facilities, as one local family found.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that it will all be over when the holes are drilled. Oh no sirree. Not necessarily. Not at all. There is much ongoing work that will be done and with a big site, you can expect that frequent work to continue, we now find, for the lifetime of the site. But they won’t tell you that when they get you to sign.

Once in on a site, there is the potential for activities to escalate. Because of course they are already there so each small – or indeed large – increase in activity is just another building block on top what they have already laid. After all, in this industry it is impossible to plan ahead with any certainty and of course it is their right to escalate activities. They have invested all this money (for the good of the people, you understand, for private profit is never mentioned) and you signed away your rights back at the start.

Be prepared for the oft-repeated sneer from shallow thinking dumbos: “Well you drive a car, don’t you? You want us to go back to horse and cart? Hahaha.” This has nothing to do with fuelling our cars, even less so when it is gas, as it is in Tikorangi. Suitable replies may be: “I drink milk but I don’t think dirty dairying is okay,” or “I own a gun but it doesn’t mean I believe in war.” Glib, but parallel arguments. Derisory comments come from those who are either benefitting personally from petrochemical development or those who have no idea whatever how bad it can be for the residents living alongside the development.

Don’t expect your local councils to keep you informed. While they may and do have a great deal to do with the petrochemical companies and Their Processes allow them to assist the companies to repeatedly massage their resource consent applications until they fit the clipboard check list, these very same processes do not include keeping the most affected residents and ratepayers informed. At least not until the final decision has been made and it is too late for you to raise any concerns.

No matter how sympathetic some elected councillors may be, they cannot help you. The power base at local body bureaucracy level rests with the paid senior staff. The role of elected councillors is to be the public fall guys for staff actions and decisions and the sooner some new councillors realise this, the happier the organisation will be.

The Councils will assume that everything in the consent applications is complete and correct on the part of the companies and approve it accordingly. There is too little due diligence that I have seen. When you find out after the application has been signed off that it may not have been full and correct, it becomes a matter of personal pride for Council staff to defend their decisions. Catch 22 but no matter, the winners will be the companies.

You are on your own. There is nobody tasked with protecting the residents’ interests. You are just a small fry to be squishied as the Councils and the companies work “to get things right moving forward”.

Stress. Be prepared for considerable stress over a long period of time. I have heard the ongoing anxiety over company plans blamed for marriage breakups amongst residents. Who knows if this is the case, but I do know that the stress is protracted, genuine and very personal. And that stress is all your very own stress so if you feel your anxiety levels rising, you may need to look for help. It can take a year or two from when a company first comes a-knockin’ at your door to get all the consents in place and start the activity. They may drill one hole and then go away. But their consents are commonly for eight holes and they can come back repeatedly over the next two decades – longer for the earlier consents which don’t have an expiry date at all – and drill again. And again. Then they may apply for a variation to the consent to add more activity on the site. That stress ebbs and flows but it doesn’t go away and none of the official processes recognise the stress placed on residents. It drives some residents out but when moving is not an option, you just have to batten down the hatches and cope.

For all these reasons above, trying to work “within the system” is pretty much doomed to failure for the individual. Oh you may have some small victories to keep you happy along the way, but when it comes to the important issues that really matter, the system ensures that the powerful voices triumph.

Coming up soon: Toxic Transport and other delights from the Tikorangi Gaslands.

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Solastalgia – the story of our corner and changing times

Oddly enough, I find being able to put a name to the sense of loss and grief I feel at what is happening to our beloved area of Tikorangi is helpful. Solastalgiathe distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment. Faced by the high impact of petrochemical development around us on every side, I now refer to the Tikorangi Gaslands. The tragedy is that it is not a joke.

IMG_20141214_0002This is what our corner of Otaraoa and Tikorangi Roads used to look like in the mid 1990s. The havoc on the left hand side is the result of major work Mark carried out to reduce flooding through our park and to return some of the stream to its original bed. His tidy grandfather had straightened up the stream to run along the boundary back around the early 1900s.
IMG_20141214_0001A year or two later and our children are getting off the school bus on what was a quiet country road. Note the trees on the right hand side.
???????????????????????????????This is what our side of the road looks like now. The trees have grown up and many people tell us how much they enjoy the flowering.
???????????????????????????????But we now have the petrochemical industry all round us and down this formerly quiet little country lane is the huge Mangahewa C site with its eight gas wells, single men’s camp and much additional activity. The road has been strengthened and widened for their heavy transport, all done in such a way as it is now impossible to walk along the verge. It is sometimes referred to as “loss of rural amenity”. Children can no longer walk safely to and from school bus stops, cycling is not safe, forget horse riding. It is pretty difficult to find a safe position to stand clear when the heavy transport thunders by. Meantime, across the intersection, the other side of Tikorangi Road – largely unused by the petrochemical industry – has remained unchanged over the past 20 years. It is a stark contrast.
???????????????????????????????And on the right hand side of the road where there used to be trees, there is now a green wasteland dominated by the designated high tension power lines that Todd Energy, a petrochemical company, deemed necessary for their operations. Sadly, petrochemical development is now given precedence over rural amenity, local residents or the preservation of the environment. This is our world of 2014. During the day we listen to the heavy transport. At night, our formerly pitch black sky is often lit by gas flares in one or more quadrants. On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning today, I could hear the distant noise from Mangahewa E site. Every night we go to sleep to a low drone from one of the plants and we are not even sure which one it is any longer because there are four possible sources for the noise. But under the Resource Management Act, we are told by our councils that “effects are less than minor” and we are not, therefore, an affected party.

No wonder some of us feel grief for what we have lost. Solastalgia.