Plundering Aotearoa/New ZealandPublished by MAC on 2012-06-12
We are pleased to publish the following detailed analysis of threats posed to Aotearoa-New Zealand's civil society and ecology by mining, oil and gas exploitation, both current and planned.
Author Dennis Small's article is part two of a series published by the country's renowned Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, in its April issue of Watchdog magazine
Primary Production, Free Trade, Resource Conflict & Corporate Plunder: Part 2
By Dennis Small
Watchdog (CAFCA - Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa)
"Our planet is threatened by multiple crises - a climate crisis, food crisis, financial crisis, [nuclear] proliferation crisis. These crises could split us apart like never before, or bring us together like never before. It's the challenge of our time, and the outcome will determine whether our children face a darker world or one thriving in greater human harmony. This is the challenge to meet" (Avaaz).
"The world offers a multitude of environmental disasters created by extractive industries that dig for oil, gold, silver or other minerals . . . Mineral ecocides have happened often enough and predictably enough to be cast as the order of things" ("Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil", Peter Maass, Penguin, 2009, p81).
"It is important to stress that . . . the most immediate reason for ‘our' failure to act on global warming has been the sustained and often ruthless exercise of political power by the corporations who stand to lose from a shift to low-and zero carbon energy systems" ("Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change", Clive Hamilton, Allen & Unwin, 2010, xiv)
* * *
Conflict over primary resource use in Aotearoa/NZ now spans the spectrum from climate change through water wars to seismic testing for fossil fuels. As time goes on, all the indications suggest that such conflict will only intensify unless new positive directions for cooperative, sustainable development are adopted. Moreover, time and again, governmental agencies have demonstrated their firm adherence to neo-liberalism, abusive environmental exploitation, and eventual overkill. Free trade agreements mean that the proposed controversial sale (stymied by a judge at time of writing) of Crafar Farms to the Chinese Shanghai Pengxin company is only a sign of what is to befall us.
The vital protective framework of the Treaty of Waitangi is under increasing attack. Globalist neo-liberalism hands decision-making power and so control to corporate capital, i.e. the comprehensive dismantling of what democracy and freedom we have left. The real unashamed capitalist, of course, promotes the view that the market is democracy and that the power of money arbitrates justice. Mainstream media insidiously endorse this view in many ways.
The Government is certainly clever in some of its market ploys. For instance, in cunning fashion, it is using public concern over high dairy prices in order to facilitate further foreign corporate inroads undermining Fonterra and its cooperative model. This sort of thing goes in tandem with such measures as the controversial food safety Bill.
At the same time, an internal struggle continues within Fonterra itself as much of the executive (directors and management) keeps trying to subvert the cooperative model at yet another level of economic operation, with repeated efforts at open market shareholding, or steps in that direction. Certain comprador* fractions closely linked to the National Party are bent on milking the white gold in conjunction with overseas interests at the expense of the public good. *Comprador - local collaborators of colonisers, in this case the transnational corporations. Ed.
Giving The Green Light For Black Gold
Meantime, the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is passionate about the black gold of fossil fuels and so very committed to its contributions to planetary meltdown. So far as the ongoing debate over seismic testing for hydrocarbons is concerned: "Scientists worldwide are divided over whether seismic testing for oil and gas can trigger seismic activity" (Press, 1/10/11).
At present, apparently, most scientists believe it is not possible to trigger any seismic activity (ibid: however, see below for further discussion), but the MED obviously has absolutely no concern for the application of the precautionary principle in such situations. This conclusion can be generalised across the range of the MED's purview. Its hearty endorsement for seismic testing for oil and gas in the Canterbury Basin by American exploration giant Anadarko was indicative of its cavalier understanding of environmental management.
Again, it was highly significant that during the 2011 election campaign, Prime Minister John Key saw fit to take time out for a secret meeting with the boss of Anadarko, further confirming our banana republic status (TV3, 6 pm News, 17/11/11). Anadarko "has [also] been exploring off Taranaki recently" (Press, 6/1/12).
It is very relevant too that Origin Energy, Anadarko's partner in the Canterbury Basin enterprise, has been involved in controversial coal seam gas mining (CSG) in Australia (Insight, SBSTV2, 23/9/11). Coal seam gases comprise methane and other gases released when pressure is reduced on a coal seam, usually by the removal of water from the seam.
In Australia, most CSG mining so far has been in Queensland, and "fracking" has been used there. "Fracking" (a corruption of "fracturing") can be provisionally defined here as "drilling into shale bedrock", using hydraulic techniques (see later below, as well, for more detailed discussion of this mining technique and its ramifications).
Origin Energy, majority owner of Contact Energy here in Aotearoa/NZ, has been negotiating deals with Australian farmers who often have serious concerns about the process and outcomes. Many of these farmers obviously feel that they are being exploited by a booming industry (ibid; "Dirty Money: The True Cost of Australia's Mineral Boom", Matthew Benns, William Heinemann, 2011, ch. 4: ‘What the Frack!'). Indeed, the CSG industry is already having substantial ecological and social impacts in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia. By September 2011 there had been cases of salty water contamination from Origin's operations, as well as by other companies (Insight, ibid; see also "Dirty Money", ibid.).
Given the projected size of the industry at present with about 25,000 (!) wells planned for Queensland, the problem of salt contamination of farmland could become very extensive in this part of Australia. Eventually in Queensland alone, the fully implemented range of projects could ultimately incorporate a grand total of some 40,000 wells!! ("Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia's Future", Paul Cleary, Black Inc, 2011, p107).
At present too, and for the foreseeable future, there is a real lack of independent monitoring and research with the State government clearly far too close to vested corporate interests (Insight, op. cit; "Dirty Money", op. cit.). The industry contends that its mining will not adversely affect groundwater. But it supplies the basic data. As environmental engineering lecturer Gavin Mudd of Monash University contends, a much better system of monitoring is urgently needed (Insight, ibid.).
Salt can severely contaminate areas where it does not belong. To date, as noted, Queensland has already suffered contamination of some underground aquifers by salty water, contaminated in addition with the plethora of toxic chemicals used in fracking ("Dirty Money", op. cit.). During 2011 NZ's supply of vegetables and fruit was disrupted in part by flash floods in Queensland. Such climate change-aggravated flooding and hurricanes have the potential for long-term environmental damage in this Australian state and elsewhere, including the displacement of the briny residues from CSG mining. Whether the result of conventional farming practices, flooding, or widespread mining and fracking: "Salt that hasn't moved for thousands of years will now be on the move. This is happening today all over Australia" ("Back from the Brink: How Australia's Landscape Can be Saved", Peter Andrews, ABC Books, 2006, p78).
Helping Hand For The TNCs
Various transnational corporations (TNCs) have been roaming around Aotearoa/NZ, probing into the possibilities for CSG and other coal options.
These companies have included L&M Mining, one of the companies within the L&M Group. Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee denied any influence from L&M Mining in making a decision to keep a critically significant area out of the Oteake Conservation Park in Central Otago (Press, 17/2/10). In this specific case, the mineral deposits concerned are "mainly lignite" (ibid). Brownlee's denial came in the face of evidence to the contrary, including "Crown Minerals/L&M Mining's submissions"! (ibid.).
Yet another branch of the L&M Group, L&M Energy Ltd, has interests in a number of exploration permits for petroleum and CSG, including some offshore, around Aotearoa/NZ. It is one of the TNCs involved in the Canterbury Basin. L&M Energy claims that its Ohai CSG reserve in Southland is of comparable size to gas fields in Taranaki. In 2011 Australian company Comet Ridge announced "recoverable gas resource certification" at a Greymouth permit (Press, 3/10/11).
Comet is also surveying a number of other areas in Buller and the Paparoas, as well as in Waikato (Press, 23/4/11). In its 2009 report Comet had indicated a finding of "significant coals in the Paparoa Formation that extended further than previously thought" (ibid.).CSG explorer Comet has been using sophisticated technology in gathering airborne survey "gravity gradiometry" data in a phased programme "over parts of the northern West Coast" (West Coast Messenger, 30/3/11).
It is estimated that L&M Group has "a 90% stake in Chatham Phosphate Ltd", a company exploring for "underwater phosphate reserves" on the Chatham Rise (Press, 9/2/12). Another company working in the same region, Chatham Rock Phosphate, is apparently looking on L&M's firm as a potential partner rather than a competitor "in the ocean-based phosphate mining arena" (ibid.).
Further environmental disasters loom in this area, and in this particular region of our oceanic waters. "L&M Group is held by a small group of shareholders" while "Chatham Rock Phosphate has 255 shareholders" (ibid.). Journalist Patrick Smellie considers that the debate on deepwater mineral mining has already been settled with the industry push for such exploitation prevailing (Dominion Post, 13/2/12).
In his view, even most environmental groups recognise the economic benefits to NZ over the ecological risks. But major organisations like the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, NZ Forest & Bird, the Environmental Defence Society, and the Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM), committed to saving the oceans, are part of a gathering wave of resistance and campaigning to come.
More generally, the Green Party pointed out in July 2009 that NZ "taxpayers are subsidising multinational oil and gas companies by undertaking millions of dollars of exploration work and giving away the information" (Press, 16/7/09). The Government has been funding this via the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST). The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) and Landcare Research are involved as well. L&M Petroleum had welcomed the Government's support, saying that it could be a positive "tipping-point for big companies" (ibid.). After all, NZ is competing with "the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea" (ibid.).
Open Door For Depredation
The Government made another announcement about further opening our lands and regional waters to the mining TNCs in August 2011 just as Hurricane Irene was threatening New York City. This event, unprecedented in some 70 years, was yet probably another indicator of how humans are aggravating and accelerating climate change by the burning of fossil fuels. At the very same time too, the state of Texas was suffering its worst drought in living memory, with wildfires causing big problems there. Significantly enough, American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists announced in early 2012 that: "The global average temperature last year was the 9th warmest in the modern meteorological record, continuing a trend that saw nine of the ten hottest years occurring since the year 2000" (Sunday Star Times, 22/1/12).
But fossil fuel backed climate change sceptics still peddle their gross propaganda in the mainstream media.
For example, Bryan Leyland, a power industry consultant and energy adviser to the so-called NZ Climate Science Coalition (a front group for big polluters), weirdly claims that according to the latest science that "there has been no significant warming since 1988" (Press, 6/1/12). And this is just some of the obvious rubbish he writes (ibid.).
As the corporate climate change deniers go on their merry way, in the real world a host of events and processes continues to compound with dire implications. For example, Antarctica is being undercut by "changes in winds and ocean circulation, possibly due to climate change" (National Geographic, January 2012). "Strengthening ocean currents are bringing more deep, warm water into contact with thinning ice" in West Antarctica (ibid.). Such trends are "worrying" and "alarming" with obvious implications for "sea-level rise" (ibid.).
Two degrees centigrade extra of global warming above pre-industrial levels could collapse the West Antarctic ice-sheet ("Requiem for a Species", op. cit, pp12, 13, 25 & 198). Worldwide, weather patterns seem to be vacillating to extremes with increased instability as predicted. But the Big Business band plays on . . .
In September 2011 tropical storm Lee amplified the impact of Hurricane Irene in northeast America and, as well, its "winds swept across parched, drought-stricken Texas - helping to spark more than 190 wildfires that killed four people" (Press, 13/9/11). Again, appropriately enough given capitalist irrationalism, Rick Perry - Texas Governor and a recent contender for the Republican nomination for President - is a fundamentalist Christian "creationist", a Big Oil man, and climate change sceptic opposed to "green energy" alternatives, as well as being anti-Palestinian, anti-United Nations, etc. Perry is pretty typical of the current Republican front-running contenders. Look out!
A Cunning Plan Under The PR Smoke Screen
It should also be noted here how calculatedly the Government is managing its TNC-mandated mining development programme, phasing in various aspects in an apparently ordered manner to manufacture public opinion.
At the same, many potential mining depredations have already been unleashed. "Special conservation areas protected under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act" are now clearly in the Government's sights (Press, 17/1/12). "The Government is planning ‘significant' changes to the Crown Minerals Act in 2013 to make it easier for miners to explore and then extract minerals", and says it will consult with the public and industry soon (www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10778983).
Energy & Resources Minister Phil Heatley wants to improve conditions for companies "to access our minerals, apply for opportunities to explore, that type of thing" (ibid.). A consultation paper to "inform" (?!) the Government on changes to the Act will be released early in 2012.
The general idea is to make the legal and regulatory processes more "streamlined" for companies to use. So the Government's agenda is clear enough - throw open the door to the TNCs, and any local firms and capital fractions as well. Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce recently expressed confidence that the Government could "bring the public along" with its plans to develop a bigger mining industry (ibid.).
Significantly, Treasury is pushing for greater emphasis on mining and fossil fuel development. In line with globalist neo-liberal ideology, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of mining group Straterra, Chris Baker, said NZ needed a regulatory regime that was "competitive" with other countries in order to attract more mining investment (ibid.).The Government and its comprador mates continue to lie in their teeth that such changes will mean lowered standards. It is certainly a race to the bottom today, in more ways than one!
Despite widespread and large-scale protests, the Government even reneged on promised public consultation on mining access to the ecologically precious Denniston Plateau for Australian TNC Bathurst Resources (Sunday Star Times, 19/2/12; Press, 17/1/12). The Department of Conservation (DoC) has capitulated on this project. But: "Open-cast mining has already ravaged more than half of Stockton Plateau" (Press, 17/1/12).
Consequently, Forest & Bird is calling for a reserve on the Denniston Plateau to safeguard a unique wilderness area (ibid). In conjunction with "some of NZ's top scientists", Forest & Bird volunteers have been researching the Plateau for further evidence of its already established unique "biological distinctiveness" (Sunday Star Times, 19/2/12).
Yet the TNC-driven Government bulldozer is now on the cusp of further rampant destruction. Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, keen to build on her proven disastrous record to date, has steadfastly declined further appeals for public notification of "access arrangements" for Bathurst Resources (ibid.). This Government is out to systematically undermine democracy wherever it feels it can get away with it.
Getting More Black Gold
Taking its cue then from friendly politicians, "Bathurst Resources is ramping up coal production on the West Coast", while working through what is likely to be a resources consents charade for its huge proposed Escarpment Mine (Press, 25/1/12). In the meantime, and supremely confident of official backing, Bathurst has invested "$12m in a new underground mine and improved port handling facilities" (ibid.).
It has signed a lease deal with Port Taranaki for the storage and shipping of coal. The TNC is still confident about mining this year "even though appeals are delaying plans", and its share price has been hit hard (Press, 16/2/12). In the meantime, Bathurst is also pushing ahead with access for its Brookdale coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, as well as "ramping up production at its nearby Cascade mine" (Press, 10/2/12).
In all, a "fait accompli" in action!? Let's hope that legal action by environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - Forest & Bird, the Fairdown-Whareatea Residents' Association, and the West Coast Environment Network - can yet manage to throw a spanner in the company's works, and hit its share price even harder. These NGOs surely need all the support we can give them.
"During 2010, Bathurst Resources acquired L&M Coal Holding's hard-coking exploration assets. The private L&M Group, a large energy and mining conglomerate, operates a number of private and public subsidiaries under its umbrella. L&M Energy, along with L&M Coal Seam Gas, is concentrating on methane and petroleum exploration. As a branch of Bathurst, L&M Coal was renamed Buller Coal Holdings Ltd.
L&M Coal has even been after the ‘black heart' of one of our most precious wetlands - Whangamarino. It got an exploration permit for this area in September 2006" ("Wetlands of NZ: A Bitter-Sweet Story", Janet Hunt, Random House, 2007, p63). Below Whangamarino lies "some of the lowest sulphur coal in the world" (ibid.). With typical fossil fuel industry propaganda, L&M Coal painted the potential of such areas in glowing terms for NZ (and subsequent planetary meltdown!): "The demise of coal gas production from the Maui Field, coupled with strong growth and demand for reliable energy, has reopened opportunities for commercial development of NZ's extensive coal resources . . . Coal is an economically viable alternative for NZ's growing energy needs". Bathurst's Buller Coal now has its hands on the Whangamarino project.
Obviously having imbibed lessons from how Rogernomics was applied in NZ/Aotearoa, and given the strong public opposition to their plans, National Party strategists are encouraging more and more invasive intrusions, accumulating them into a grand blitzkrieg on many fronts, and so trying to spread, absorb and drain protest energies. They clearly have a deep respect for Roger Douglas's contempt for the democratic process, his keen appreciation of corporate machinations and disregard for community concerns. They are determined to give our country another really jolly good "Rogering". But, in turn, this very abusive strategy is firing up opposition and people power in riposte. As time goes on then, watch out for more divide and rule tactics by the forces of primary predation.
Drill And Mine Everything!
Symptomatic of the Government's collaboration with the corporate predatory approach was that blazoned by TAG Oil, a Canadian TNC, with its plans to "aggressively move forward" explorations near Ngaere and Stratford in Taranaki in the face of strong community concern (Sunday Star Times, 9/10/11: the paper has been running an insightful series on this particular mining programme). Local farmers and residents in the region are worried about the risk "to the area's natural water supply" from fracking (ibid.). In late 2011 there was "an ongoing resource consent process" (ibid.). Fracking "has been happening in Taranaki since 2000" (Sunday Star Times, 26/2/12).
However, local councils (Stratford and Taranaki) were not even bothering to listen to the people's concerns (Sunday Star Times, 9/10/11 & 11/12/11). Likewise, "TAG Oil did not respond to Sunday Star Times requests for comment" (9/10/11). Controversy has already been flaring over "fluid leaks", with the residents of Ngaere "demanding answers from Council officials and TAG Oil after concerns about the area's water quality" (Sunday Star Times, 16/10/11).
Restructuring For Primary Plunder
As part of its development programme, the Government is restructuring ministries concerned with primary production.
"The Government's bid to save money by folding fisheries management back into the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry [MAF] in a giant primary industries agency could threaten some of NZ's most important industries, says the Public Service Association (PSA)" (Press, 25/8/11). This restructuring will axe an estimated net 241 jobs (ibid.). In wider terms, this further effective deregulation will "weaken and remove crucial management of agricultural, biosecurity, fisheries and forestry systems", which protect NZ, as again also emphasised by the PSA (ibid.).
Indeed, the formation of this new giant primary industries Ministry is already impacting adversely on environmental management. The restructured MAF, "which last year absorbed the Ministry of Fisheries", is proposing "a radical change to the management of squid fishing around the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands" in relation to sea lions in their "main breeding area" (Press, 12/1/12). Most worryingly, MAF is pushing for management reviews only once every five years, "and doing away with fishing-related mortality limits that allow the Minister to close the fishery should too many sea lions be killed by fishing trawl nets" (ibid.).
Outside the Ministry, independent scientists involved with the issue strongly challenge this new policy approach to sea lion conservation. In rebuttal of the Ministry's viewpoint, they contend that fishing is having "a direct effect on the sea lion population", and that the existing evidence demonstrates this (ibid.). In contrast, the NZ Seafood Industry Council and the so-called Deepwater Group are backing MAF's research (Greymouth Star, 23/12/11). Meanwhile, the number of rare Maui's dolphin is still dropping (Sunday Star Times, 5/2/12). But the Seafood Industry Council strenuously opposes the need to "end gill and trawl net fishing" for conservation purposes (ibid.). At the same time, global warming and "climate change" seem implicated in the huge decline of elephant seal numbers "on NZ's sub-Antarctic islands, along with the "downward population trends" in certain other species as well (Sunday Star Times, 12/2/12). Our marvellous regional biodiversity is under accumulating assault and erosion.
Undermining The Marine Environment
Another indicator of this deleterious pattern is the resistance of the Government to creating more marine reserves (Sunday Star Times, 11/12/11). "University of Queensland ecologist Hugh Possingham says NZ had not created ‘representative reserves . . . particularly in near shore areas, with heavy pressures from different sorts of fishers'" (ibid.).
And, we could add here, growing pressures as well from the fossil fuel TNCs. Once, Aotearoa/NZ was out there "leading the world in marine protected areas" (ibid.). An internationally backed proposed marine sanctuary for the Kermadec Trench is strenuously opposed by the Seafood Industry Council (ibid.).The Government is intensifying exploitation of our already fragile coastal ecosystems, e.g. planning to greatly expand Marlborough fish farming, as well as reaching out to grab deepwater minerals.
Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE), says a new Bill to be considered by Parliament in 2012 (now under review), aimed at setting up an environmental management regime for NZ's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, will put the spotlight back on seabed mining and petroleum exploration" (Sunday Star Times, 1/1/12).
Bizarrely enough, this current Bill - geared to mineral and other forms of exploitation - has been drafted by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE). The PCE herself has appealed for the application of the precautionary principle in relation to the new proposed mining regime.
But "submissions on the Bill from prospectors, released this week, show the mainly foreign firms want a range of changes to make exploitation easier, reduce public scrutiny, limit Ministers' discretion and even allow the drilling of gas and oil exploration wells without a permit. The submissions closely mirror each other, hinting at an organised campaign. Companies want to avoid public hearings being the ‘default' position for applications" ("Prospectors bid to water down drilling legislation" by Rob Stock, Sunday Star Times, 19/2/12). So there is a big TNC push under way to steer the MfE-drafted Bill even further towards mining abuse.
Paint It Black!?
Anadarko, Origin Energy, and NZ Oil & Gas (NZOG) are among the many companies opposing the need for consents and public hearings (ibid.). Moreover, there are several brazen calls for less protection for "sensitive areas", and even the governmental right to identify such areas (ibid.). As well, there are calls for the freedom to have loopholes for "new activities slipping under the radar without regulators or the public realising" (ibid.).
A mining industry buzzword today is "adaptive management" which is an explicit rejection of the precautionary principle, instead providing a licence for large-scale environmental pillage. Such a management regime would thus give licence for mining marine disasters, in conformity with the existing TNC-mandated ship flag of convenience regime a la the Rena fiasco.
Mining companies could thus freely adapt from one disastrous mistake to the next. Prospectors similarly reject any regulatory review of current practices and want their consents to last longer. The EEZ & Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill's facilitation of deepwater mining is the subject of some devastating criticism by Kay Weir, Editor of Pacific Ecologist, and Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM) Coordinator (www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1202/S00159/oil-industrys-rush-to-drill-deep-sea-blind-to-dire-problems.htm).
In September 2010, in furtherance of its primary production goals: "The Government signalled its intention and commitment to strengthening the oil and gas sector by creating a larger and more high-profile Crown Minerals Group within the MED" (Press, 8/10/11). Significantly again, the NZ Food Safety Authority (FSA) was incorporated back into MAF in 2010. Overall then, the latest round of governmental restructuring signals how renewable resources, including our water, along with biodiversity in general, are being systematically downgraded and degraded in favour of the new emphasis on mining and extraction of non-renewable resources. The Government is now running down conservation on a wide range of fronts according to the standard TNC prescription. Primary production is to be boosted at the expense of environment to an extreme degree.
More Fossil Fuel Mavericks
A new big mining TNC on the NZ scene is another Canadian oil and gas firm, the TNC Apache Corp, joining the search off the East Coast with TAG Oil. Apache & co. come hard on the heels of "Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, [which] did seismic testing off the East Cape . . .[and] faced a small flotilla of protesters from Greenpeace and Maori group Te Whanau a Apanui" (Press, 7/9/11; Sunday Star Times, 24/4/11). Thankfully, Greenpeace and Maori iwi are mobilising opposition against these latest mining forays into our waters. In September 2011 Greenpeace was reported as "seeking a judicial review of the oil exploration licences granted to Petrobras" for locating "hydrocarbons in the Raukumara Basin in waters off East Cape" (Press, 20/9/11).
There is also concern about Apache's exploration on land (Press, 7/9/11). Te Whanau a Apanui lawyer Dayle Takitimu has declared that the Government is not listening to what it had been told many times by the iwi; and that instead, PM Key & co. "seem hell-bent on this agenda of extraction at all costs" (ibid.). Iwi and local communities are being brushed aside with contempt. "We are under siege by these oil and gas companies, who are encouraged by the Government," Takitimu said (ibid.).
PEPANZ Pushes Oil Addiction And Gross Predation
For certain, Petroleum Exploration & Production Association NZ (PEPANZ) Chairman John Bay was brazenly arrogant in dismissal of such protests. Bay declared that: "International explorers were not especially put off by recent protests by Greenpeace and local tribal groups about Petrobras exploration work off the East Cape" ("Boom Times for Oil, Gas in NZ", ibid.). Bay went on to say: "They don't want to go where they are not wanted . . . [but] we are used to dealing with people like Greenpeace around the world" (ibid.). Mr. Bay would do well to reflect carefully on his very high-handed attitude. Many Pakeha strongly support the stand of such local iwi, Greenpeace, and other activist NGOs. PEPANZ even openly opposes the vital movement for renewable energy sources (e.g., Press, 16/10/07). Suicidal stupidity and capitalist self-destruction take all forms.
Bay's grossly cavalier public relations (PR) on PEPANZ's behalf afford a real insight into the industry's cynicism. Bay made it plain that Greenpeace would get marginal publicity in the US where environmental concerns are of low concern in comparison with Aotearoa/NZ or Greenland (Press, 7/9/11). Big Oil is very aware of its central role in big gun capitalism, and its power to trample over ecosystems and people (see, e.g., "Crude World", op. cit.). But, again, People Power is stirring in response and taking a stand on both local and global grounds against such abuses. Increasingly as world crises compound, more and more people see the prospect of a future worth living at stake, especially for coming generations. Globally, and most inspiringly, the Internet-based Avaaz is mobilising millions around the planet to work for a better future.
Big Oil Oozes Power
Here in Aotearoa/NZ, a survey has shown that most New Zealanders (73%) "did not want the Government to prioritise the exploration and mining of fossil fuels to sell offshore", in place of developing "renewable, sustainable energy" (Sunday Star Times, 24/4/11). And this stance comes despite the fact that petroleum is now NZ's third biggest export earner. Governmental manipulations are yet the order of the day. The National Party included "greater exploitation of oil and gas fields" as an item in its "120-point election plan for the economy" (Press, 15/11/11). At election time then, it thus cynically played down the primacy of this policy within a wider export-led development approach.
Despite all the clever PR, we can certainly get a sense of how the Government and PEPANZ, flush with fresh TNC collaboration, are very ready to stomp on local peoples, indigenous rights, and New Zealanders in general (Press, 7/9/11).
Apache's very name is expressive of its usurpation of indigenous culture and rights, and the corresponding callous treatment of indigenous peoples. The cowboys are coming thick and fast; and the fight to keep them at bay has only just begun as former Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says (Sunday Star Times, 11/9/11). Jeanette herself these days is prominent in the growing campaign against Solid Energy's "dirty coal" lignite mining projects in Southland, working in close association with the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) and other activists (Sunday Star Times, 15/1/12). See Jeanette's article about the lignite campaign elsewhere in this issue. Ed.
Behind PM John Key's inanely smiling face, and all the gloss of Government/industry/media PR, is the brutal reality of rapidly globalising capital and its predatory impact on Aotearoa/NZ, on both people and the environment. If Australian companies have a deplorable record on the treatment of the native Aborigines, mining TNCs in general have - on many grounds - a horrendous record in the "Third World" (again, e.g., see "Crude World", op. cit.).
Moreover, environmental standards for mining practice can also be very poor at the very heart of the "developed" world, i.e. in the US and other rich countries; and they are deteriorating fast as mining becomes even more desperate and invasive. Again, as Jeanette Fitzsimons' article in this issue ("Solid Energy: It's An SOE But Would Foreign Control Matter?") shows, supposed democratic control means little if it is not properly exercised. Further, State ownership of resources is not necessarily an improvement over that of the TNCs unless, again, there is genuine democratic oversight, a point repeatedly hammered home by Peter Maass in his book "Crude World" (op. cit.).
Defining The Parameters Of Debate
As Australian sustainability expert Dr. Ted Trainer has declared: "The many alarming global problems crowding in and threatening to destroy us are so big and serious they cannot be solved within or by consumer capitalist society. Our current way of life in rich countries is grossly unsustainable and unjust" (Pacific Ecologist: "Living lightly: aiming for 350ppm C0²", no.18, Winter, 2009, p11). But commitment to a dying system is entrenched, even as the fossil fuel industry blindly digs a deeper grave for us all.
In Aotearoa/NZ, defining the parameters of discussion and debate about the looming limits to global capitalism is critical; otherwise we are foreclosing the desperately urgent need for the development of constructive alternatives. The latest mainstream media line on the development of Aotearoa/NZ is the contention that "the Government has to tread carefully between its eco-friendly image and a viable economic future" as exemplified by one of Anthony Hubbard's Sunday Star Times' columns (25/9/11). Hubbard, usually an astute columnist, actually promotes the idea that NZ is a "poor country"! (ibid.). Hubbard's stance is echoed by a Sunday Star Times editorial, "NZ's too poor to stop the search for oil" (15/1/12). This is certainly a bizarre spin on NZ's situation. A reality check is obviously required.
"New Zealanders are using more than their fair share of the earth's resources", say Professors Robert and Brenda Vale of Victoria University's School of Architecture (Press, 8/4/11).
They have been researching our Ecological Footprint (a measure of environmental impact), demonstrating that: "New Zealanders use about [the equivalent of] five hectares, Americans use between eight and nine, and the Chinese use about two" (ibid.). Furthermore, Lincoln University Ecology Professor Steve Wratten points out that humankind has already overshot the planet's carrying capacity (Press, 17/9/11). "We're using the world's resources at 1.5 times its ability to provide them" (ibid.).
But "cargoism" or faith in technological progress in pursuit of the fading American Dream is pervasive throughout corporate globalisation (see the landmark study, "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change", Prof. William Catton, Jr., Uni. of Illinois Press, 1980). The conventional assumption is that capitalist consumerism is the normal state of things, of how humans both can and should permanently behave, rather than just an evolutionary blip (or possibly even extinction!).
The Mirage Of Continuous Consumer Prosperity
So any discussion of development options for Aotearoa/NZ from a truly sustainable perspective should be placed in the wider context of the planet's ecology.
While Anthony Hubbard recognises that NZ has to make some efforts at going "green", he considers that somehow, at the same time, it will have to mine "one big and dirty treasure trove under the ocean"; and that also "the same goes for onshore mining" (Sunday Star Times, op. cit.). In this connection, he poses the general question as to: "How to Grow Rich but stay Green?" The frank truth is that we are not going to grow rich as Hubbard and the editorial staff of the Sunday Star Times envisages it.
We are already living well beyond our means. Furthermore, they embrace an absurd contradiction. Hubbard, indeed, does recognise that "NZ has been living for a long time beyond its means", but only in the conventional economic sense, and not in terms of the deeper, underlying ecological realities (Sunday Star Times, 29/1/12).
These writers obviously only take into consideration our relative position in the rankings of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), and ignore our place in relation to the "Third World", let alone the planetary ecosphere. The only sustainable route in the longer term is a much simpler and self-sufficient lifestyle based on greatly reduced consumption, and yet one that can be satisfying in all sorts of ways (see e.g., Pacific Ecologist: no.18, Winter 2009, & no.19, Winter/Spring 2010).
The delusion that humankind can endlessly industrialise the planet is just such a gross fantasy that a moment's thoughtful reflection should dismiss it out of hand. At least, however, Anthony Hubbard is one mainstream journalist who comes out firmly and admirably against selling off more of our assets like the Crafar Farms (Sunday Star Times, 29/1/12).
As Dr. Ted Trainer points out, "almost everyone in the mainstream fails to recognise" the delusion of enrichment through endless growth, however dirty and polluting, and ultimately self-destructive it all becomes (in "Strengthening the vital Transitions Towns movement", Pacific Ecologist: "Living Lightly: Aiming for 350ppm CO²", no.18, p12). The mainstream media are still hooked into the capitalist cargo cult mindset, into market and consumption growth fantasies, even as global capitalism is crumbling on a number of critical fronts. While the wish for some sort of compromise between green and black is understandable, we shall never achieve any measure of improved sustainability with even greater commitment to an increasingly destructive and disintegrating fossil fuel culture. T
his is especially so today as the mining industry becomes more environmentally invasive than ever before, intruding deeper into the realms of the natural world and vital foundational ecosystems; and as more global resource wars loom from the Middle East to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands and Antarctica, even as internal conflict deepens within resource-cursed states like Nigeria and Iraq ripping them apart.
The foreign-owned corporate media, whatever the reportage on various aspects of the process, will, of course, back the comprehensive takeover of our country by the mineral TNCs. The Sunday Star Times editorial noted above appeals to new American-inspired legislation stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as endorsed by Environment Minister Nick Smith, and to be overseen by the new so-called Environmental Protection Authority (op. cit, 15/1/12). It makes the ritual appeal to future sustainability while embracing policies that directly contradict this path. Furthermore, disasters from the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico to the ongoing Rena fiasco are dismissed by the editorial in favour of "an acceptable level of risk", whatever that is supposed to be - certainly a rejection of the precautionary principle (ibid.). As we have seen repeatedly around the planet, the TNCs and their lackey politicians really decide the operative standards for the level of risk.
Meantime, BP has been allowed back into the Gulf of Mexico after striking a deal with American regulators. This company is now also deeply involved in Arctic exploration, in a joint enterprise with Russia. BP was responsible for a bad oil leak in Alaska in 2006. Yet another major ecological catastrophe is pending in the Arctic region (Press, 5/4/11). Correction: In the first part of my article (in Watchdog 128, December 2011), I stated that John Browne was BP's CEO at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In fact, Browne had resigned in 2007 (amended appropriately for the article's online edition). But his replacement, Tony Hayward, certainly carried on with the culture of corporate abuse. Hayward himself resigned the CEO position in disgrace in 2010, the year of the disaster. However, Hayward has continued his own career in predatory disaster capitalism, currently operating a venture oil company in northern Iraq.
On one level, consumer capitalism and its persistent cargo cult mentality certainly seem a strange phenomenon in terms of the Earth's geological and evolutionary natural systems.
It all flies not only in the face of elementary commonsense but defies scientifically based projections on our global environment, let alone the record of human acquisitive behaviour under stress. To reiterate: "The current rate of depletion to the planet's resources is one of the two reasons, together with the acceleration of global warming, for regarding our contemporary way of life as unsustainable" ("Where We Are Now: The Smartest, Clearest Guide to the Issues that Shape Our World", Cambridge International Reference on Current Affairs [CIRCA], Mitchell Beazley, 2008, p26). Yet, bizarrely enough, we look for life on remote planets while we destroy life on the only "Goldilocks" one we shall ever have. At the same time, most worryingly, "boom and bust" cycles can also be seen as symptomatic of the dynamics of the natural evolutionary process.
But, stop press, the economic growth system in which we are all caught up continues to get even crazier. China's virtual monopoly over rare earths (used in "televisions, hybrid car batteries and many other products") has actually sparked a debate in the US on prospects for mining the Moon! (Press, 18/2/12). In addition, "China, India and Japan have all indicated an interest in setting up Moon mining operations" (ibid.). Materialist mysticism is literally taking cargo cultism back again into the heavens . . .
Think Big - Pre-empt Global Meltdown!
We shall pick up again on the general theme of sustainability a bit later below. In the meantime, it is apposite to note how at least one Sunday Star Times journalist - Nicol Reed - seems far more switched on to the bigger planetary picture ("The Big Picture", 2/10/11).
In surveying some environmental abuses and emerging risks around the planet, especially relating to fossil fuel extraction, Reed poignantly evokes the gathering challenges of the future. A major environmental threat is that of Canadian tar sand oil being piped to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico (ibid.). Another is the increasing danger of oil drilling to the Arctic National Wildlife Range (ANWR), focus of a fierce debate in the US.
Meantime, the equivalent threat on land in Aotearoa/NZ relates to Solid Energy's plans to develop Southland lignite deposits (Sunday Star Times, 11/9/11).
According to officialdom: "Government-owned coalminer Solid Energy will be allowed to build a lignite processing plant, which will operate 24/7, without the public having a say" (Press, 13/5/11). Again, supposedly "independent commissioners" were involved in the decision-making procedures of the Gore District Council on this matter (ibid.). On the other hand, as earlier intimated: "The opposition [to this project] comes from all directions" for a variety of very good reasons (Press, 13/8/11; see Jeanette's article, op. cit.).
Environmental planning and resource management in Aotearoa/NZ are rapidly becoming farcical in many respects as the Government and its agencies get more grossly authoritarian and manipulative in approach. Democracy is being systematically subverted across many fronts, and a common theme is the officially sanctioned corporate push for much greater fossil fuel development and other mineral exploitation, in conjunction with more mining of water, etc.
The New "F" Word - Fracking
As already indicated above, an ominous, new intrusion into the environment of Aotearoa/NZ is the mining practice of "fracking", and a similarly new addition to our environmental lexicon. While Western capitalism slides further into economic decline, its industrial base is undergoing severe stress under the impact of peak oil. As also intimated, given its acute oil dependence, global industry now has to seek petroleum energy from sources much harder to mine - the deep ocean seabed, deep underground shale rock, lignite lodes, and even tar sands ("heavy" oil). Ironically, in turn, all this demands increased energy use in the processes of extraction.
Fracking can be defined more fully as: "A slang term for hydraulic fracturing. Fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. Fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached". The practice actually goes back to the late 1940s. But it has recently entered a new phase overseas, especially in the US, where other large-scale environmental vandalism is already rampant, e.g. mountain-top removal mining for coal in the Appalachians. So far, in the course of this article, we have examined some aspects of the fracking controversy in Australia and Aotearoa/NZ, and the negative fallout.
However, fracking is even promoted by investment bank Goldman Sachs, a key agency of globalisation and an especially exploitative one, for turning around American resource economy fortunes, helping the US line up "to become the world's largest oil producer again" (Press, 12/9/11). The very intrusive process of shattering underground shale formations is seen as having "already dramatically changed the gas industry" (ibid.). It has now "been adapted to oil" (ibid.). In the application of this technology, the process of fluid injection involves "millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals" pumped underground (ibid.).
Despite the hype from the likes of Goldman Sachs, the economic gains from fracking, whether from gas or oil, have been greatly overblown (http://www.readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/7998-the-fracking-industrys-war-on-the-truth). A highly praised series of investigative articles in the New York Times has raised the lid on the American natural gas industry for a very revealing inside look at the commercial and environmental realities of fracking (ibid.). With its PR being blown away, the American industry, led by big players ExxonMobil and Chesapeake, responded by attacking the New York Times and the paper's investigative series (ibid.). But the industry's cover continues to unravel. Environmental damage is proving to be both intensive and extensive. Despite this, the TNC-driven industry in Aotearoa/NZ is pushing the same sort of PR line, adapted for local conditions.
The economic and environmental failures of fracking again also point up the inanity of any reliance on Goldman Sachs's globalist projections. Yet such simple-minded faith in the projections of Goldman Sachs and similar agencies constitutes a routine and mindless standpoint for so many capitalist politicians and corporate planners, including government agencies.
ronically too, of course, Goldman Sachs is one of the prime agencies responsible for the unfolding global financial meltdown. The promotion of capitalist globalisation is certainly an incestuous, self-reinforcing phenomenon. A glaring instance lies at the root of the world's financial crisis. Heavily indebted Greece was levered into the European Union (EU) by investment banker Goldman Sachs, despite being "clearly in breach of the admission rules" (Sunday Star Times, 6/11/11). Goldman Sachs helped Greece to disguise the depth of its problems by creative accounting, and then cynically left this country in a far bigger mess following some clever currency gaming. Greece owned up to "cooking" its books in 2009. The ramifications of all this for the global economy go on.
"Ponzing" Around In The Global Casino
Goldman Sachs, incidentally, badly damaged its reputation for a long time following the 1929 Great Depression. It had earlier launched a "Ponzi*"-type investment scheme that made lots of money but then collapsed spectacularly. In our era, ex-banker Philip Augar has revealed the extent of clever gaming in the big investment banks, with a close examination of the machinations of Goldmans Sachs, JP Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, source of PM John Key's own personal wealth (see "The Greed Merchants: How the Investment Banks Played the Free Market Game", Penguin 2005). Much evidence shows the extensive nature of this syndrome prevailing today even after the 2008 Lehman Brothers' implosion helped trigger the global debt meltdown. For many years, the investment banks have reaped abnormally high profits and compensation for themselves, and especially their top staff, despite the unravelling of financial and debt markets.*A pyramid scheme whereby original investors are paid beguiling dividends from new advances. Bernie Madoff is the most high profile recent perpetrator. These scams are still called Ponzi schemes, after Charles Ponzi, who provoked the 1925 Florida real estate bubble. Ed.
Most tellingly, protesters in Italy against the "Eurocrat"-imposed government there, have condemned the regime as a "Goldman Sachs government", geared to further bleed 99% of the Italian population in order to pay for debt exacted by such investment banks (Press, 19/11/11). Over recent years, mining and energy have emerged as new trendy sectors for investment and trading for Goldman and co. In tune with all this, the NZ Treasury has appointed First NZ Capital/Credit Suisse Australia, Macquarie Capital NZ and Goldman Sachs NZ joint lead managers for the sale of up to 49% of the State-owned power generator and retailer Mighty River Power. Three other similar agents of capitalist globalisation make up a potential panel of six to act in future asset sales. These other three outfits are UBS NZ, Forsyth Barr/Merrill Lynch (PM Key's old firm), and Deutsche Bank/Craigs. Predatory and parasitic birds of a feather flock together!
Gassing and Fracking Communities Off
By mid-2010, an article in Vanity Fair ("A Colossal Fracking Mess: The Dirty Truth behind the New Natural Gas" by Christopher Bateman, June 2010) had highlighted the mounting problems with this new mining trend in the US. The Vanity Fair article focused on the contamination of the water supply in Dimock, a town in north-eastern Pennsylvania, with warnings about the danger of fracking plans for the Delaware River Basin and other important watersheds in New York State. At the time, the Delaware River was said to be the most endangered river in the country. A number of residents in Dimock, fighting against the water pollution there, point to their case as a graphic example of how things can go so badly wrong. "Fracking was temporarily banned in the US state of Pennsylvania" (Gisborne Herald, 12/10/10). As well, the US Environmental Protection Agency has got involved, for what it is worth, given this Agency's often ineffectual and compromised role. A newspaper report observes that: "The internationally contentious procedure [of fracking] . . . has been banned and suspended in some countries" (Sunday Star Times, 9/10/11).
Significantly, a TVNZ7 Dateline (21/9/11) item on fracking showed the broad extent of the problem in the US, noting that it had now become a major issue as well in Australia and Aotearoa/NZ. In America fracking is dividing communities like Dimock, due to the capacity of the big gas companies to buy up land and mining rights, and so split up communities. The Susquehanna River is now considered to be the most endangered American river because of the risk of fracking in its watershed valleys. Similarly, the lakes and rivers of the Catskill Mountains, supplying New York City with its water, are also under the cloud of gas exploitation and fracking. Josh Fox, producer of the ground-breaking documentary film "Gaslands" (2010), has remarked that there are thousands of reports of water contamination across the US, increasing in number as time goes on.
More Aussie Angst
The Australian experience is providing a graphic illustration of the ultimate costs of rampant primary production based mainly on a minerals boom. Informed by the fundamentalist neo-liberal inspiration of Rightwing economist and politician, Dr. Don Brash and his clique, the National government promoted the idea of matching Australia's vaunted materialist success. The key plank to the Government's development programme has drawn on the perceived success of TNC exploitation of the mineral riches of the neighbouring continent, and so the opportunity for NZ to do the same - at least as much as possible. This has all been the subject of plenty of not so subtle PR.
But the downside to the Australian experience is the continuing and deepening destruction of the natural ecosystems that underpin the viability of any human economy. "The [Australian] environment is being destroyed by morally bankrupt mining companies that pay donations to corrupt politicians, who are too gutless to think more than three years ahead" ("Dirty Money", op. cit, p260).
In Australia's case, the real, longer term costs are rapidly mounting. Along with all the environmental damage, an increasing toll is also being extracted in social and economic terms as more and more of this country's national wealth is drained offshore. "In 2005-06, the mining industry made a profit of $A57.1 billion and claimed $A1.2 billion in fuel-tax credits. So not only do a lot of the mining companies not pay much tax but what little they do pay, they claim back!" (ibid.). As well, the evidence shows that the industry is failing to cut down where it can on greenhouse gas emissions.
Disturbingly, in Aotearoa/NZ, the Australian-based Fairfax media empire owns a whole range of mainstream media, incorporating newspapers like the Press, Sunday Star Times, Taranaki Daily News and the Dominion Post. As time goes on, these media are more likely to operate regularly in line with Aussie and globalist Big Business attitudes and dictates, whatever attenuated elements of independent opinion might remain. And, of course, in certain quarters there is ongoing open advocacy for us to subjugate ourselves to Australian and TNC domination, whether by closer currency and commercial bonds, or even constitutionally, to boot.
As a relevant media example of corporate-speak, Andrea Vance in a survey of the pros and cons of environmental protection under the new EEZ Bill concludes with a quote from Australasian TNC NZ Oil & Gas Ltd to the effect that the industry has supposedly adopted "international good practice, which has gone well beyond NZ's legal requirements" ("Oil and Troubled Waters", Press, 25/2/12). Yeah right! Again, James Weir, in looking at the activities of Shell and co. in the Arctic, plays down the threat of global warming ("Icy divide: the good oil v the bad oil", Press, 29/2/12). He concludes with positive emphasis on the new environmental protection measures agreed between Shell and the American Administration. Shell, frustrated by legal challenges in trying to mine the Arctic since 2007, is now suing the Arizona-based Centre for Biological Diversity and 12 other environmental groups in a corporate attempt to bully and intimidate them into submission (www.biologicaldiversity.org/: "Say No to Destructive Drilling in the Arctic"). There is no effective way of coping with a bad oil spill in the Arctic's icy waters. Having played a major role in ruining the once marvellous ecosystem of the Niger Delta, Shell is now bent on helping destroy the Arctic.
Certainly the more we try and model ourselves on Australia, the world's highest polluting carbon emission country per capita of population, the grimmer the outlook for Aotearoa/NZ; and we are already among the highest per capita carbon polluters too. Recently, some Australians - "farmers and conservationists" - have been warning us to wake up about the dangers of CSG and fracking (Press, 25/7/11).
For instance, L&M Energy's activities are worrying a number of Cantabrians as it seeks to undertake CSG mining on the Canterbury Plains and in South Canterbury (ibid.). A Queensland farming couple, severely impacted by the CSG industry, have been telling Cantabrians how law changes in Queensland now allow companies greater rights and freedom to both exploit farmers, and damage the land and water supplies (ibid.). Even the risk of cancer has become a real concern.
But "fracking is set to continue in Canterbury despite opposition from the Christchurch City Council and widespread community concerns" (Press, 27/2/12). Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley has rejected a Christchurch City Council call for a moratorium (ibid.). However, resistance is deepening following the formation of "the Bring Change movement opposing fracking and deepsea drilling in Canterbury" (ibid.), and Stop Fracking and Drilling South Island. Scientists like Canterbury University geological sciences lecturer Paul Siratovic and American geophysicist Michael Hastings do "not believe fracking operations in Canterbury would have any economic benefit", and are also "wary of the risks of induced seismicity" (ibid.).
As ever, contradictions continue to proliferate everywhere. For instance, a Press editorial has suggested that the Australian government's new carbon tax policy poses now "a major environmental question of NZ, which must be answered" ("NZ and the carbon tax", 12/7/11). This comment actually implies positive action for NZ on the issue. Ironically, the malevolent TNC-controlled media in Australia have been hugely influential in turning public opinion against the Gillard Labor government even though a major aim of the carbon tax has been to help try and "spread the bounty" from mining profits "to every corner of the nation" (Press, 24/11/11). A future really Rightwing government could explicitly reverse the gains from the tax. Furthermore, Australia is looking eagerly abroad for greater Chinese investment, and even enthusiastic endorsements of Chinese-Australian collaboration on mining can acknowledge Chinese concern about "cumbersome red tape, including environment, heritage and labour regulations" (www.smh.com.au/business/world-business/waiting-for-the-floodgates-to-open-20110909-1K1uc.html).
The Tightening Coils Of Capital Concentration
One of the many ironies of the mainstream media is that sometimes the perils of capitalist predation become evident from this media's own reporting of itself. Here is such a revealing insight from the Press: "Shares of Fairfax Media have soared after mining magnate Gina Rinehart moved to snare a cornerstone stake in the newspaper, digital and radio group, and increase her influence over the media landscape" (2/2/12).
Rinehart, who is Australia's richest person, was prominent in 2010 "in opposing the Federal government's proposed mining tax" (ibid.). She is seeking a 14% share of Fairfax "and possibly a seat on the Board. Rinehart already has a 10% stake in the Ten Network, of which she is a director alongside Lachlan Murdoch" (ibid.), and on which she has already had a conservative influence. Rinehart's flagship company, Hancock Prospecting, has just signed a lucrative deal with a big South Korean firm, giving the latter a slice of her iron and coal mining empire (ibid; 3/2/12).
OceanaGold Corporation is one of those Australian companies seeking Chinese investment money (Sydney Morning Herald,16/5/12 "Waiting for the floodgates to open"). As a large gold miner in Aotearoa/NZ, Oceana operates mines at Macraes in Otago and at Reefton on the West Coast. It is looking at expanding its Reefton-based project by reopening the Blackwater Mine within an enhanced development and productivity programme (Press, 19/12/11).
At present, this TNC is riding high on world gold prices (Press, 17/2/12). With ambitions to grow "from a NZ-based gold producer to a Southeast Asian gold producer", OceanaGold is working on its highly controversial and locally contentious Didipio Project gold/copper mine development in Northern Luzon, Philippines, intent on the mine's commissioning by December 2012 (Press, 19/12/11; 17 & 23/1/12); for background on the Didipio project see my article "Digging Disaster: OceanaGold's Didipio Project" in Kapatiran 29/30 May 2008, http://www.converge.org.nz/psna/Kapatiran/KapNo29n30/Kapart29n30/art134.htm.
Challenge Of Positive Change
A recent Australian acquisition in Aotearoa/NZ is that by Crusader Coal of "a mothballed Solid Energy coal mine", the Terrace Mine, at Reefton (Press, 28/1/12).
Given the fact that this mine had been recently operative, and that it will enable the continuation of local employment, the case for it is understandably substantive from a regional perspective although yet another case of foreign ownership must be of concern. Meanwhile, Solid Energy is planning "to spend $25m opening up a 5m tonne mine" near its existing Stockton mine (Press, 10/2/12). The State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) has proclaimed public notification of resource consent applications for the Mount William North Mining Project (ibid.). It claims that this new mine will ensure "the continuation of employment of the mine's Stockton staff" (ibid.).
Yet the ongoing challenge for us all is how to shift constructively to a more sustainable energy future on the national level. In these terms, new ventures like Bathurst Resource's monster set of mining projects on the Denniston Plateau, and contiguous areas, obviously make no sense at all. In the circumstances, to entrench the fossil fuel industry throughout Aotearoa/NZ on such a scale would be absolutely absurd. Similarly, the operations of Solid Energy and those of other existing coal companies must come under closer scrutiny, as with the fossil fuel industry in general.
Even on safety matters, Solid Energy has shown it can be repeatedly amiss. It has had to continually improve its safety provisions at its Spring Creek Mine. In February 2012 the Department of Labour closed the mine down again temporarily, with the latest incidents reflecting badly on CEO Don Elder and senior management (Press, 21/2/12). Ironically, Solid Energy had just bought out its partner, the giant American TNC Cargill, from a joint venture in this "underperforming" and safety-fraught mine (Press, 3/2/12). Solid Energy's Ohai mine in Southland has also had serious safety problems. Another recent safety issue has related to some of OceanaGold's employees "at the Macrae's gold mine in North Otago [who] had elevated levels of mercury" (Press, 2/3/12). Most disturbingly in this particular case, "OceanaGold had clearly breached the law but the time period for a prosecution had passed" (ibid.). There is obviously a real gap in the safety provisions here
Privatising And Taking Power
Our neighbour across the "ditch" certainly provides plenty of lessons and pointers on democratic governmental control. Longer term in Australia, the prospects for energy efficiency and more renewable energy sources are very murky, given the contrary intention of the current Government, and certainly any succeeding Government, to "lead a renewed push for the privatisation of State electricity assets" (Press, 14/12/11). Gas and, so far, more fracking, will be a prime focus of this programme (ibid.). While so-called "clean energy projects" are also supposed to be a priority, the renewed emphasis on economic growth, neo-liberalism, and the "free market" with all its associated deepening inequalities, deregulation and commercialisation, will inevitably vitiate implementation of the new carbon tax policy anyway. Power, in every form, will be relinquished almost totally to the TNCs, prised out of the hands of the Australian people as the whole economy gets further twisted and distorted by the mining industry.
Other sectors of the Australian economy are already being squeezed to a considerable extent by the huge focus on mineral extraction, coupled with a big property bubble. Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith predicts that Australia is "moving closer to the point when everything would be foreign-owned" (Greymouth Star, 1/2/12). The National government is surely on a similar track for Aotearoa/NZ, with all its fossil fuel development projects, asset sale programme, privatisations, reduced environmental protection, governmental deregulation, etc. As well, regular trans-Tasman talks are aimed at forging even closer economic and political relations, further eroding our independence.
In Australia TNCs like Origin are getting bigger and more powerful. "Origin, which owns 51.4% of Contact Energy, has bought a 40% stake in Chilean geothermal exploration company Energia Andina SA. Origin is among the 20 biggest ASX [Australian Stock Exchange]-listed companies. The investment was part of its pursuit of geothermal opportunities in growing markets overseas" (ibid.). Similarly, NZOG, the prime original financier of the Pike River Mine, has won an offshore prospecting permit in "newly democratic Tunisia in North Africa" (Sunday Star Times, 6/1/12). This TNC is involved as well in Indonesia. It is seeking "to consolidate its positions" in these two countries (Press, 23/2/12). NZOG was a 29% shareholder in Pike River at the time of the mine disaster. "The disaster wiped out the value of NZOG's stake in Pike" (Sunday Star Times, 6/1/12).
NZOG itself has been directly involved in several drilling projects in NZ. But NZ for some players is seen as "higher risk/higher reward", making investment more problematic and uncertain (ibid.). All the more incentive, then, for TNCs to try and ratchet down the risks by further reducing regulatory controls over their activities here. Moreover, the more globalised such companies become, the less accountable they are likely to be. In 2012, Austrian company "OMV is NZ's largest liquid hydrocarbon producer, with stakes in the Maui, Maari and Pohokura Fields in Taranaki. In addition, this TNC "holds two exploration permits in the Great Southern Basin and another four in the Taranaki Basin" (ibid.).
As demonstrated to date in Taranaki and Canterbury, worries about mining activities such as fracking are mounting close to home. Currently, TAG Oil has permits for mining various areas of land in Taranaki and on the North Island's East Coast. As a company which has already used fracking in North America, TAG Oil has been under scrutiny there for its use of this method. But the MED and other governmental agencies are very supportive of TAG's exploration, as of fracking and large-scale fossil fuel development in general in Aotearoa/NZ. Like Bathurst Resources, TAG Oil is out to "ramp up" production, given obvious Government connivance in its apparently very ambitious plans (Sunday Star Times, 11/12/11). TAG Oil, however, admits: "That up to 95% of the oil would have to be sourced" from fracking (Sunday Star Times, 26/2/12).
The MED claims that the fracking process that would be applied here would be quite safe, using "low salinity water" (Gisborne Herald, 12/10/10). Furthermore, it contends that since: "In NZ, the freshwater table is relatively shallow", fracking operations would be conducted at "quite deep levels, well below the saline/freshwater interface", and so deeper than any groundwater aquifers (ibid.).
This echoes the same sort of claim that Origin and other CSG mining companies make in Australia. As usual then, the PR line of the MED and the Government in general closely tallies with that of the TNC-driven mining industry here. Under neo-liberalism, powerful private commercial interests have constantly manipulated the political process to direct public policy and shape the rule of law and regulatory practice. It is time, in a new age of emerging progressivism, to wrest control back to the NZ people, and assert our economic democracy; and this includes prising the MED, NZ Petroleum & Minerals, GNS Science, and other governmental departments and agencies from the grip of TNC power.
With fracking under way in Taranaki and on the cusp in various other parts of the country, along with all the other challenges under way, the battle lines are shaping up across Aotearoa/NZ in the struggle for future sustainability. In a typical PR piece, PEPANZ's John Pfahlert treated with derision the claim that fracking causes earthquakes (Press, 16/9/11). Yet, mining industry PR has come a bit unstuck in this regard. Instead, it is most pertinent that Bernie Napp, senior policy analyst for Straterra, the industry group for the NZ resource and mining sectors, actually acknowledges fracking could conceivably cause "low-level shock waves" (Press, 8/8/11). Indeed, he says that we should "consider seismicity when carrying out fracking operations" (ibid.). Likewise, Dr. Paul White, senior groundwater scientist for GNS Science, has declared fracking can induce seismic activity (Press, 23/7/11). For sure, fracking has been linked to earthquake activity from Basel in Switzerland to Arkansas in the US (ibid.).
Fossil Fuel Balkanisation
In earthquake sensitive Christchurch, the City Council's appeal to the Government for a "moratorium on fracking in Canterbury" included a call for "an independent inquiry into the risks of the process . . . by an organisation or person such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE)" (Press, 28/10/11; & quote in Press, 15/12/11). In Taranaki this call has also been made with "two long-time Ngaere farming families ... submitting a formal complaint to the PCE", requesting an official investigation (Sunday Star Times, 18/12/11). "The issue of mining - both on and off-shore - is one of the Commissioner's stated ‘list of priorities of work'" (ibid.). At present, following its successful resource consent, TAG can increase "the number of wells on its Cheal A and B sites to 30" (ibid.). So the local natural water supply is now at stake.
If the GNS boys want to promote Aotearoa/NZ as the new "North Sea", TAG Oil "wants to turn the East Coast [of the North Island] into the ‘Texas of the South', writing of the potential to build ‘thousands' of oil wells in the largely untouched region of NZ" (Sunday Star Times, 15/1/12). TAG Oil has boasted to "investors in North America that the East Coast is ‘literally leaking oil and gas'" (ibid.). Indeed, TAG has been touting its "aggressive East Coast Basin programme" overseas, with talk of "billions of barrels of oil" in contrast to its cautious message to locals (ibid; Sunday Star Times, 22/1/12). Some 700,000 hectares in the Gisborne and Napier areas are scheduled for testing by TAG (TNVZ, One News, 15/1/12; another item in this particular news broadcast highlighted the cheap costs exacted by DoC for access to our conservation land).However, in a later report, TAG and Apache played down the hype over the oil and gas potential, and promoted a conciliatory line towards local iwi (Sunday Star Times, 12/2/12). TAG Oil's "aggressive drilling campaign" is aimed at comprehensively "commercialising the East Coast Basin in the coming months and years" (Sunday Star Times, 26/2/12).
Already, local Maori in the East Coast region seem potentially divided over the prospects for the region (Sunday Star Times, 15/1/12). Furthermore, as opposition in turn grows to its plans, TAG Oil is stepping up its PR. "Local body politicians are set to be hosted on an all-expenses paid trip to North America" by this TNC (Sunday Star Times, 22/1/12). One Gisborne District Councillor, Manu Caddie, laid it on the line as he saw it: The oil industry was "‘not welcome'" on the East Coast of the North Island" since "every dollar spent on accessing fossil fuels is a dollar not going into renewable energy and clean technology development" (ibid.). Caddie expressed concerns about "the integrity of the industry and the way they can manipulate both investors and communities involved with their activities" (ibid.). A former National Party MP, Aaron Gilmore, has been a beneficiary of TAG's largesse for consultancy work on its behalf (Sunday Star Times, 5/2/12). Gilmore is an enthusiastic fossil fuel pundit.
While the Government, exemplified by Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley, stands firmly behind fracking, the resistance movement is yet spreading within local government as well as within wider society. In mid-February 2012 "the Kaikoura District Council became the third local body to call for an urgent moratorium on fracking" ("Fracking the new ‘nuke-free'", Sunday Star Times, 19/2/12). Manu Caddie is calling for the Gisborne District Council to follow suit. Currently: "The technique is being banned in a number of countries, due to fears it can lead to increased seismic activity and claims that chemical used in the procedure have leached into ground-water reservoirs" (ibid.). The Green Party is stepping up its campaign against the technique.
Countering Corporate Aggression
"Aggressive" is obviously a buzzword for TAG Oil and a tag on its operations. This foreign TNC is ready and eager to exploit any social opening for its depredations, as demonstrated to date by its drilling and fracking operations, and accompanying PR. Similarly, Bathurst Resources, Anadarko, Apache, NZOG and other TNCs are jostling in the ravening pack spearheaded by PEPANZ and Straterra, along with plenty of industry promotion and greenwash. Let such companies rule and our country will be well and truly stuffed - both socially and environmentally in the worldwide violent twilight of oil
Part 1 of Dennis' article was published in Watchdog 128, December 2011, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/28/08.htm. Ed.