Tag Archives: Todd Energy

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.

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

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.

Welcome to 2014, Tikorangi!

Oh my, but our petrochemical sites are getting very close together now. Some residents may be able to see two sites from their homes. One lucky family has sites close in on both their boundaries now.
Kowhai-c-from-ME-siteThis is Kowhai C site as seen from Mangahewa E site. These sites belong to two different companies drilling right on their boundary which happens to cut through Tikorangi.
KC-from-opp-Kb-on-foremansHere we have Kowhai C site – the one this community said it didn’t want but got anyway. This photo was taken 150 metres to the side of Kowhai B site in order to get a clear view. Both sites belong to the same company – Greymouth Petroleum. Kowhai B is consented for 8 wells. Only one has been drilled so far. Close by, so very close that one wonders why the company needed a second site, Kowhai C is consented for 4 wells.
Kowhai-c-Kowhai C again, this time from Otaraoa Road. It is one of about 10 well sites Greymouth Petroleum has in Tikorangi. I know of 9 that have been consented – I am not sure of the current status of Urenui A (which is not in Urenui but is in Tikorangi).
M-c-Kowhai-C-stakes-M-c-in-This photo taken about August last year – the rig has now gone but it was on Mangahewa C, as photographed from Kowhai C. It is like a quadrilateral of sites, already. These two belong to separate companies again.
ME-from-Stockman-rd-14-12-1Mangahewa E site from Stockman Road (near Mangahewa C site). These two Mangahewa sites are Todd Energy’s but, to be fair, it should be pointed out that Mangahewa C site has 8 wells drilled on it so is at capacity on its current consent.
026Work progresses on the new Mangahewa E site.
???????????????????????????????Mangahewa E site again. It is often stated that this petrochemical development (still called “exploration” but they are long past exploration in Tikorangi where it is decades since a dry well was drilled) is “temporary”. Does this look temporary? How can these developments be temporary when the majority of consents are open ended with no expiry date? Only the most recent three sites have a time limit on the consents – 15, 20 and 30 years. In whose books is this “temporary”?
008And work progresses on extensions at Turangi A site. These are the other company’s sites (Greymouth Petroleum).
???????????????????????????????But wait, there are more. Turangi C site is, according to the company (Greymouth Petroleum) “about” 850 metres from Turangi A site. It can’t be any more than that from Turangi B site, in that case, because it is pretty much set back between the two. Neither Turangi A nor Turangi B have been drilled to capacity. So why does the company need a third site and could they not have deviation drilled from one of the other two sites? Who knows? Only the company and neither New Plymouth District Council nor Taranaki Regional Council seem inclined to ask them why. It looks mighty like speculative consenting to some of us – described by the company rep to me as “future proofing”. Right-o then. That is future proofing the company, not Tikorangi.

Turangi C site broke new territory, even for Tikorangi. The farmer who owns the land from where the photograph was taken was not even told of the site. His farm manager discovered it when site works started. It is consented to go right on the boundary – the bunding will presumably come up to the fence. This is a whole new precedent – getting a heavy industrial site on the boundary and nobody even bothering to tell you. Apparently the company didn’t think it was necessary, neither did the two councils, not even the land owners who let the company in told their neighbour. Only in Taranaki, surely, could this happen.
???????????????????????????????And Kowhai B site with one hole drilled, as viewed from the neighbour’s property. It doesn’t look “temporary” and it was anything but silent on the day I took this photo. It has a significant impact on the neighbour’s adjoining paddock and could well affect his future property options but he was never deemed an “affected party”. I think, to the right of centre at the front of the photo, that is an example of the screen planting done by the company. It’ll be quite a few years before anything is screened by that sort of planting.

Still New Plymouth District Council faffs around with no evidence of any sense of urgency. Despite being responsible for the conditions in the District Plan that have allowed this situation in Tikorangi, they fiddly faddle around the edges, failing to get to grips with planning and management of petrochemical development

Columnist, Dion Tuuta, wrote in our local paper this morning:

“By ignoring the wishes of the iwi, hapu and wider community involved, the company is indicating that it values profit above all else – including its long-term relationship with members of the tribal group in whose area they are likely to be spending a significant amount of time and resources.”

He was referring to Tag Oil’s determination to drill on a sensitive site a mere 220 metres from the Egmont National Park on the flanks of our maunga, Mount Taranaki. His comments are just as applicable to Greymouth Petroleum in Tikorangi. With bells on. In determinedly pursuing the Kowhai C site, against the wishes of the vast majority of the local community, they deliberately ignored all local opinion, just as they wilfully ignored Otaraua Hapu who claim that area as part of their territory. Profit is to come above all else for some of these companies. It is a bitter legacy they are creating. Both those companies might do better to look to the strategies adopted by Todd Energy which places a very high priority on building community relationships and working with the local residents.