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.


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


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





We Won: Mining Sector in Shock


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


Making Beauty and Household Products at Home


In addition to being toxic to the environment and human health, brand name corporate beauty and cleaning products tends to be quite expensive. I prefer to make my own at home like my grandmother did. Thanks to Lyn Webster, a local Taranaki woman who gives workshops all over New Zealand on saving money by living sustainably.

Below are examples of simple recipes that can be made in minutes in a food processor. I also encourage people to check out Lyn’s website, which has dozens of other homemade recipes, as well as a range of books, budget tips and other products.


Dishwashing Liquid

Bar soap cut in chunks

1-2 Tablespoons washing soda (calcium carbonate)

2 Tablespoons glycerine

Mix 1-2 minutes in food processor. Dilute the concentrate that forms overnight with water.

Washing soda can be found at hardware or grocery stores

Glycerine can be found in pharmacies or the baking aisle at the supermarket.

Kitchen/bathroom Cleanser

Use baking soda on sink stains and bathtub rings. Also good (with or without white vinegar) for burned on grease.

Laundry Detergent or Powdered Detergent for Dishwasher

Bar soap cut in chunks

1-2 Tablespoons washing soda

Mix 1-2 minutes in food processor. Use 1 Tablespoon for light load. Add white vinegar to rinse compartment of dishwasher to prevent spotting.

Stain Remover

Eucalyptus oil

Drain Cleaner

Baking soda, followed by hot white vinegar, followed by boiling water

Personal Deodorant

Baking soda in a spray bottle (essential oil optional) or white vinegar (smell disappears after a few minutes). Both work like commercial deodorant by changing skin pH to kill bacteria.


Baking Soda



Optional flavouring (peppermint or clove and orange oil)

Shampoo and Dandruff Treatment (works better than commercial products – kills the fungus that causes dandruff)

Baking soda

Follow with vinegar rinse for conditioning

All-purpose Anti-bacterial Cleaner

Baking soda (kills 99% of bacteria)

White vinegar

Few drops of homemade dishwashing liquid

photo credit: elycefeliz via photopin cc

The Anti-Fracking Movement Goes International

The anti-fracking movement has gone international, drawing in hundreds of thousands of people who never dreamed of being environmentalists or activists.

Below is a heart-rending video by the Lock the Gate coalition in Australia.

The similarities between the industrialization of prime Australian farmlands and the experience of dairy and organic farmers here in Taranaki are uncanny: the 24/7 glaring lights, noise and fumes and the unexplained health problems, particularly in children.

Most of all the helplessness experienced by families affected by fracking. Once the government allows the oil and gas industry to set up fracking rigs, it becomes the law, and ordinary people have no rights. Livelihoods are destroyed, property values plummet and your land becomes uninsurable.

My Submission on Sand Mining

black sand

New Plymouth is the largest metropolitan area in Taranaki, a region that is world renowned for its pristine black sands and fantastic fishing and surfing. The sands are black due to a large concentration of iron and believe it or not, an Australian company wants to come in and dig up the seabeds to mine for iron to sell to China. And our current National government wants to give them a $15 million research and development grant to help them do it.

Taranaki submitted more than 4,000 written submission opposing seabed mining, and some of us followed up with an oral submission. The New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency held hearings in New Plymouth today. This was my oral submission:

I’m a 10 year resident of Taranaki and a naturalised New Zealand citizen. I’m also a taxpayer and a ratepayer.* I’m here today because I’m really worried about the effect seabed sand mining will have on my community. Especially after watching the destructive effect caused by the explosion of fracking wells across our region.

The people of Taranaki have been fighting seabed mining for nearly a decade. The coalition opposing seabed mining makes for some pretty unlikely bedfellows and includes environmentalists and sustainability advocates, surfers, commercial fishermen, tourism operators and ratepayers.

We are all concerned about the negative environmental consequences I mention in my written submission. We are concerned that Trans Tasman Resources have no proven track record with this type of operation. Because the technology being proposed has never been done anywhere in the world, there is no certainty over short and long term impacts. And we’re fed up with being used as guinea pigs by foreign corporations.

Many people in Taranaki worry that their livelihoods will be affected by sand mining, especially fishermen, surfers and tourism operators. One thing we know for sure is that the sediment plume created by sand mining will negatively impact microplankton that are vital to the food chain for all marine life.

Surfers – surfing is a business in Taranaki and not just a recreational pursuit – are concerned that seabed mining will alter the architecture of Taranaki’s renowned wave swells that are important tourist attraction.

Ratepayers are tired of foreign corporations promising us that they will bring new jobs and wealth to our community. But once they set up operation we find out that the jobs are temporary jobs that are mostly taken by people from somewhere else and all the wealth ends up overseas or in Auckland. And the community as a whole ends up poorer, as we lose our small businesses, our property values plummet and our rates increase to pay for the new infrastructure we have to build to accommodate overseas corporations.

There is a very strong environmental community in Taranaki which is very concerned about two endangered species resident off our coast: the Maui Dolphin and the Blue Whale. These two species are on the verge of being wiped out. Disrupting the food chain that supports them could be the event that tips them over.

We’re also really tired of being a sacrifice zone at the mercy of foreign loot and pollute corporations.

We believe it’s wrong to ask us to sacrifice our small businesses and quality of life to foreign corporations. And we have absolutely no confidence in foreign corporations regulating themselves. We’ve already been through that scenario with the negative affect on our farming community. You wake up one morning discover that your well water has been contaminated or your kids are getting sick from the constant noise or fumes and find that you can’t get insurance on your land and you can’t sell it.

You go to your district and regional council for help and suddenly you discover there’s no regulatory regime to monitor these foreign corporations. And no one to make them assume liability for any damage they cause.

Unlike other industrialized countries, in New Zealand foreign corporations are left to regulate themselves and people victimized by them are out of luck. Groups such as Kiwis Against Seabed Mining are denied funding to get expert advice to scrutinize and oppose TTR’s application under the New Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act, while the National Government promises TTR a $15 million research and development grant if the project goes ahead.

We feel there’s something terribly wrong with the government’s priorities. They should be supporting healthy vibrant local economies and not foreign corporations at the expense of New Zealand residents.

*In New Zealand property taxes are referred to as “rates.”


photo credit: mpeacey via photopin cc