Sarah Roberts: Taranaki’s Tireless Anti-Fracking Campaigner


A Broken Earth

Directed by James Muir (2020)

Film Review

This is a beautifully made film about Taranaki fellow activists Sarah Roberts and David Morrison and their tireless efforts to hold Taranaki’s (mostly foreign-owned) fracking industry to account.

The film begins when the couple literally woke up one morning and discovered their dairy farm was surround by fracking wells and production stations that were discharging fracking wastes into a stream they used to water their herd. Around this time, Sarah began experiencing many of the same health complaints (headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, etc)  as many of her neighbors.

On investigation, they discovered 14 fracking wells to the front of their property, 16 to the rear, and 12 at the side. Although four wells were directly adjacent to their property line, they were never consulted, or even notified, about the well construction. After examining oil industry and Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) records, Sarah also discovered that the casings (linings) of some of the wells had been leaking for two years – without TRC carrying out any required ground water testing.

Most of the film concerns the history of the farm, which David’s father bought after returning from World War II, and the decision by both men to preserve the land surrounding the farm as a conservation estate. Until Sarah and David made the gradual  discovery that unregulated oil and gas drilling had systematically transformed one the most pristine natural landscapes on Earth into an industrial zone. The film also shows the the difficult heartbreaking decision the couple made to sell the farm David had managed for 20 years.

The film also also details the extensive research Sarah did into a failed regulatory process (by TRC, Stratford District Council, New Plymouth District Council, and South Taranaki District Council) that essentially allows oil and gas companies to regulate themselves.

As a result of this “self-regulation,” fossil fuel companies are allowed to dig fracking wells adjacent (and under – via horizontal drilling) people’s homes, schools, hospitals, etc. The end of the film features one of the first public meetings Sarah organized (in 2015) to notify local residents about oil industry plans to drill adjacent to Norfolk School.

As part of her tireless campaigning, she worked with Taranaki Energy Watch to file a lawsuit in Environment Court in 2016 to require that district councils set minimum separation distances between fracking wells and homes, schools, and hospitals. You can find information about the lawsuit at

You can read the Environment Court’s preliminary findings (which are favorable) below.

You can watch the film free until July 5 at

Click to access 2018-NZEnvC-227-Taranaki-Energy-Watch-Incorporated-v-South-Taranaki-District-Council.pdf



Our What the Frack Tour – June 21, 2014

 taranaki frackings siteslegend: red triangle: fracking well sites

red flame: gas/oil production stations

red pin: deep well injection sites

green pin: “land farms” and land treatment sites.

 source: Climate Justice Taranaki

We Have Been Invaded

As you can see from the above map, pristine Taranaki dairyland has been totally invaded and colonized by foreign oil and gas companies. New Zealand’s lax regulatory environment has produced a feeding frenzy. Eager to offshore as much profit as possible, they have transformed our clean green countryside into an industrial site.

A recent report by the New Zealand Commissioner for the Environment is highly critical of both Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) and New Plymouth District Council for their failure to regulate foreign energy companies in accordance with existing New Zealand law.

The PCE, bless her, makes the link between fracking and climate change front and center in her report. In her introduction, she questions the common assertion that natural gas is a so-called transition fuel, given its substantial contribution to atmospheric CO2. She also calls on the New Zealand government to specify exactly how they will fulfill their commitment to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below our 1990 emissions by 2020.

Improper Disposal of Fracking Waste

Her report goes on to chastise TRC for the failure to regulate discharge of fracking waste. Despite vociferous complaints from local farmers and residents, TRC continues to permit discharge of untreated fracking waste into streams that provide water for livestock and, and in several cases, human beings.

She’s especially critical of TRC’s use of “visual inspection,” rather than chemical testing, to assess the water quality of these streams. One particularly silly monitoring report refers to inspectors signing off on water quality because they heard frogs singing.

Cows on landfarm“Land farmed” site with grazing cattle

Another common disposal method is to spread wastes on pasture and grow grass and graze cows on it – without testing the cows, grass or milk for heavy metals, barium, benzene, hydrocarbons or other chemicals commonly found in fracking waste.

The experience with toxic sludge in the US is that heavy metals and other toxic chemicals bio-accumulate in plants grown in contaminated soil

Given given that dairy products are New Zealand’s number one export, this so-called land farming could do major damage to our country’s economy. Especially as China, our major export market, is already exquisitely sensitive to the milk contamination issue.

Emergency Evacuation Plans

Another major concern in the PCE’s report relates to the Emergency Evacuation Plans fracking companies are required to file for each drill and production site. Many fracking sites are located less than 500 meters from private homes.

As here

home and well


2nd home


4th home

and here

third homeSarah Roberts and Robert Moore – Green Party candidates for New Plymouth and Taranaki-King Country

For some reason, none of these residents have been notified that they are slated for evacuation in the case of an accidental gas release or explosion. As an example there are 36 owners and occupiers identified on the TAG Oil emergency management plan (gas release/spill contingency plan covering 500m) at Sidewinder A wellsite. These owners and occupiers will not be aware of this.

Drop in Property Values


for sale

The owners of the last property pictured above are desperate to sell it. The value of properties located adjacent to fracking wells have plummeted.

This is due to the constant noise, exposure to air and water pollutants, heavy industrial traffic

industrial traffic

and flaring


What’s more the property adjacent to fracking wells can’t be insured, owing to the risk of leaking wells, inadvertent gas releases and explosions. Under New Zealand law, the property owner assumes liability for an abandoned well site that leaks.

Todd Oil (affiliated with Shell) has recently agreed to top up sales proceeds of land owners forced to sell their property at a loss. But if you live adjacent to a Tag Oil or Greymouth Petroleum fracking site, you’re out of luck.

Health Consequences of Fracking

Because the PCE is only charged with addressing environmental issues, her report doesn’t address the nosebleeds, rashes, cancer clusters and other health issues associated with living near a fracking site.

Waitara valley plant

Nor the disastrous effect of being surrounded by fracking rigs on overall well beings and quality of life. People shouldn’t have to live this way. Why should Taranaki residents sacrifice their livelihoods and the health and well being of their children for the benefit of foreign oil companies?

Todd sign

Community Meeting Regarding Norfolk School

Our What the Frack Tour finished up with a community meeting at Norfolk Hall, a Taranaki country hall between Inglewood and Stratford. TAG Oil is applying to drill their Sidewinder B well site 600 meters from Norfolk Primary School. This isn’t about a couple of exploratory wells. This is about the the potential drilling an on-going extraction of eight wells.

As came out at the meeting, prevailing south westerly winds would make emergency evacuation of the students impossible in the case of an accidental gas release. These can and do occur at Taranaki fracking sites.

what the frack

Read follow up letter from to Taranaki Daily News from one attendee: Not the Good Oil