Victory: Environmentalists Win Appeal Against Seabed Mining Decision

We won! As reported in the Taranaki Daily News, the New Zealand High Court has overturned a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority to grant a seabed mining consent off the coast of South Taranaki.

In August last year Trans Tasman Resources was granted consent to mine up to 50 million tonnes of iron sand from a 66 sq km area off the South Taranaki Bight. Following a split decision, the chairperson cast his vote in favor of TTR’s consent.

The court’s findings focused on what the appellants argued was “adaptive management” – a practice of essentially “trying it out and seeing what happens” – which they argued is illegal under New Zealand law. The judge agreed that the Exclusive Economic Zone Act sets out requirements to protect the environment against pollution and to favor caution and environmental protection if the information available is inadequate.

Read more here: Taranaki Daily News

NZ Govt Shuts Down Offshore Oil Exploration, Onshore Exploration Outside Taranaki

According to Taranaki Daily News, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced an end to offshore oil exploration, with no new onshore permits outside Taranaki.

Ardern said the Government was “taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand”

As well as an immediate end to new offshore permits, some onshore will be offered to the industry for the next three years in onshore Taranaki, none of which will be on conservation land.

“This is a responsible step which provides certainty for businesses and communities that rely on fossil fuels. We’re striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change,” Ardern said.

The decision to continue to offer onshore permits was partly a concession to Labour’s coalition partners, New Zealand First, which expressly supports extractive sectors. The move is also designed to head off the risk of judicial review.

“All three of the parties in this Government are agreed that we must take this step as part of our package of measures to tackle climate change. I’m grateful for the support of New Zealand First in ensuring the transition away from fossil fuels protects jobs and helps regions equip themselves for the future. I also thank the Green Party for their continued advocacy for action on climate change.

An oil rig between Stratford and Midhurst, in Taranaki. Ardern will announce no more offshore exploration permits, and ...

ANDY JACKSON/STUFF – Oil rig between Stratford and Midhurst, in Taranaki.

Less than a month ago, Ardern created huge expectation among environmental activists by declaring the Government was “actively considering” a call to end exploration.

Since taking office, Ardern has said the Government will move towards having 100 per cent of electricity generation coming from renewable sources by 2035, while the economy will be carbon neutral by 2050.

Greenpeace said announcement was an “historic moment, and a huge win for our climate and people power”. . .

Read more: Ardern to End Offshore Oil Exploration

This is an important win in a long, difficult battle. It’s disappointing to see that Taranaki (where I live) is still treated as a sacrifice zone. Taranaki Energy Watch has an ongoing case in Environment Court to stop fracking next to our homes and schools. See Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Sacrifice Zone: The Story of a Real Australian Gas Crisis

Directed by David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (2018)

Film Review

Sacrifice Zone is a full length documentary about a vibrant resistance movement dedicated to shutting down fracking (for Coal Seam Gas) in a pristine rural area of New South Wales (Australia). My chief interest in the film stems from striking parallels in Taranaki, a comparable region in rural New Zealand. Here in Taranaki, which is also frequently described as a sacrifice zone, residents are also engaged in a similar battle against fracking for shale gas and oil.

Because NSW farmers have learned from the bitter experience of Queensland farmers (who have been fighting fracking for more than ten years), there has been much stronger opposition in NSW.

The other immediate parallels are the lies farmers were told by Santos (the oil/gas mining company), eg that fracking would create local jobs (the vast majority of workers are flown in from someplace else), that there would be no water or air contamination and that there would be no adverse health effects. As in Taranaki, Santos also deliberately misled farmers about the number of wells they planned to drill (one or two wells quickly turns into eight or more). I also strongly identified with the stress of living 200 meters from constant flaring and drilling and traffic noise, the absence of any fire safety planning and the reckless disposal of contaminated fracking waste into unlined pits and streams used for drinking water. The latter has led to the total decimation of formerly pristine Queensland forest land.

Like Taranaki farmers, NSW and Queensland farmers are unable to sell or insure their land once a fossil fuel company sinks a fracking well on or near their property.

For the most part, Australian farmers seem primarily concerned about the potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), an underground lake that supplies water to the majority of Australia’s agricultural land. The GAB is fed by a complex system of aquifers that interface with the coal deposits Santos is fracking (fracturing) for gas. Environmentalists and indigenous Australians are mainly concerned that fracking will destroy the Pilliga Forest, which sacred land and contains numerous endangered species. In light of the horrendous wildfires Australia has experienced over the last several years (and the extremely flammability of the methane gas they are extracting), I find it mind blogging the NSW government is allowing open flaring at Pilliga Forest well sites.

Overall I found it extremely gratifying to see conservative Aussie farmers (who have never protested against anything) uniting with environmentalists and indigenous activists.

Taranaki activists have played a similar role to Queensland activists in persuading other New Zealand communities not to open their pristine agricultural land to foreign oil and gas companies. At present Taranaki Energy Watch is battling local government and the petroleum industry in Environment Court to keep new fracking rigs away from our homes and schools. You can find out more about our case (and donate if you feel so inclined) at our Givealittle page:Taranaki Energy Watch

Oil and Gas Mining: The Devastating Effect on Communities

Sustainable Deception (Deception Durable)

Directed by Michelle Moore and William Ray (2017)

Film Review

Sustainable Deception is a bilingual documentary about the devastating effects of oil and gas mining at opposite ends of Canada. What I found most interesting about the film were the uncanny similarities with our experience with fracking here in Taranaki.

The French segments of the film cover the town of Sept Iles in Quebec and the English segments the massive tar sands project in Alberta. French and English segments are placed back to pack to highlight the parallels between the two regions:

  • Despite constant promises of jobs and prosperity, all the oil and gas revenue exits local communities, leaving them with a net decrease in income and struggling to pay for increased infrastructure costs.
  • Environmental destruction from oil and gas mining converts pristine forest landscapes into industrial brown sites, pollutes waterways and destroys organic farms, fishing and other local businesses. It also increases local cancer rates.
  • Fluctuating global commodity prices lead to boom and bust cycles, fueling higher rates of homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Oil and gas companies subsidize a succession of corrupt right wing governments who systematically deny local residents any input into planning decisions around oil and gas and other mining.
  • Despite treaty obligations, indigenous communities are never consulting regarding decisions to allow mining (likewise there is no consultation with local Maori here in Taranaki.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a commentary by an Alberta activist about the need to transition from “extractive economies” that only benefit a handful of people to “value added” economies that rely on a diversity of businesses. Here in New Zealand, the Green Party is calling for a transition from an extractive economy – based on dairy, oil and gas – to a value added economy based on a renewable energy and information technology.

The most concerning part of the film was at the end, where one of the anti-mining activists is elected mayor of Sept Iles and talks openly about the enormous pressure the oil and gas industry (and the banks that finance them) put on elected officials. When they don’t get their way, these economic powerhouses have the capacity to generate economic instability that can bankrupt a small community.

My Oral Submission Opposing Sand Mining

from KASM (Kiwis Against Sand Mining) website

Last Wednesday was a busy day for me with oral submissions to New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on sand mining and to the Health Select Committee on water fluoridation. The EPA is considering a renewed application by mining company Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) to dig up 50 million tonnes of seabed yearly in a 66 sq. km section of the South Taranaki Bight – for 35 years. The EPA refused the company a consent in 2014. TTR has now re-applied.
 

MY SUBMISSION

I am speaking to oppose this consent because I believe that coastal residents who will be negatively impacted by this project should have the final say whether it goes ahead or not. The likely environmental impacts – based on numerous studies in other regions on the effect of dredging and deep sea mining will cause wide ranging damage to deep sea plants and animals (ranging from microscopic to large marine mammals).

Killing the microscopic animals in the food chain has been shown to significantly reduce fish stocks and bird an mammal populations. In prior studies, the recovery period after sand mining was as long as 3-10 years. And none of these prior projects were anywhere near as extensive as TTR is proposing.

Computer Modeling Isn’t Proof

We also don’t see how some computer modelling done tens of thousands of miles away in London that somehow “proves” TTR’s proposal will cause no environmental damage. Surely if TTR were serious about investigating potential environmental harm, they would making more of an effort to study the marine life that already lives in the area they propose to mine instead of sending sediment samples to London for computer modelling. How can they possible predict the likely response of deep sea organisms when they haven’t made an effort to identify and count what’s already there?

With some of our marine mammals – including the Maui dolphin, the blue whale and the blue penguin – already seriously threatened, this major disruption in their food supply has the potential to wipe them out altogether.

Potential Major Harm to Fishing and Tourism

Taranaki’s fishing industry is already in deep trouble with declining fish stocks and the major environmental impact of sand mining also pose a major threat to tourism, which is now Tarankai’s primary industry. People come to Taranaki for surfing and recreational fishing, which are also threatened by sand mining, and for the pristine environment of our coast and beaches.

The people of Taranaki are fed up with being a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry, which in my view explains why the vast majority of submissions oppose this proposal. We’re fed up with having our livelihoods, health and quality of life sacrificed to increase the profits of offshore corporations.

Getting Stuck with the Final Clean-Up Bill

There are also major concerns over who will fix the environmental damage when this project finishes – or fails. With the drop in the price of oil, we see numerous oil companies pulling out of Taranaki – leaving us to clean up the environmental risk. With the current glut in the global price of steel – due to major stockpiles in China – we see ourselves in a similar situation in 35 years time when the mining for iron sands either ends or fails.

Lack of Transparency

We also have a problem with TTR’s overall lack of transparency around this application. It appears the real value of this permit is the fact that it’s locked in for a guaranteed period of time – irrespective of future governments who impose stricter environmental regulation. It’s our firm belief that TTR has no intention of exercising the permit themselves. That their main agenda is to obtain the permit and then to sell it on to the highest bidder – not for the iron sands themselves which can’t be sold profitably in the current market – but for the rare earth minerals (which they mention in their application) which have the potential to be far more lucrative.

Like many other locals, I have major problems with any process that allows multinational corporations, to have precedence over democratic efforts of local people to protect themselves against projects such as this one that allow overseas companies to reap all the profit while forcing local residents to bear all the costs.

 

 

 

 

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

here

2nd home

here

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

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

 

 

 

 

We Won: Mining Sector in Shock

Glistening_black_sand_beach_at_White_Cliffs

source: Wikimedia Commons

Response to my April submission opposing Sand Mining

Dear Stuart Bramhall

I am writing to you to let you know that the Decision-making Committee for this application has made its decision. You are being notified of the decision as you made a submission to the application.  If you requested a hard copy of the decision when you made a submission, this will be sent you in the next few days.

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources to carry out iron sand mining in the South Taranaki Bight has been refused

A full copy of the decision is available on the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) website at http://www.epa.govt.nz/EEZ/trans_tasman/decision/Pages/default.aspx.

According to the New Zealand Herald, “The mining sector is in shock.” It’s hard work, but when people organize, it’s still possible to defeat powerful international corporations