Last week TAG Oil and Apache Corporation gave their briefing to the Regional Council regarding oil exploration in our region (the area targeted is on Hawke’s Bay’s southern boundary).

Alex Ferguson of Apache actually did all the talking, and it was evident that he’s made this kind of presentation probably hundreds of times. Deliver the basic information. Deflect the macro questions that are beyond your pay grade. Don’t get sucked into weird questions about your company’s name or its interest in alternative fuels. Smile at all times … do a bit of “Aw shucks” … play Mr Congeniality.

Alex has probably faced many more hostile audiences than your average Regional Councillor. Which isn’t to say Alex faced a hostile Regional Council; in fact, the questions from Councillors were tame as usual. No sweat.

He was pushed hardest on the suggestion that the companies conduct a forum for the general public, where anyone interested (and some would be very well informed) could ask questions. But eying the 60-75 fracking protesters who had packed into the Regional Council chamber, Alex demurred. And in a moment of candor he mentioned a lesson that corporate (and council) PR types learnt long ago — why conduct a public forum where you know most of those attending will leave just as unhappy as when they arrived … and get a bunch of media coverage for their protest in the bargain? What’s the upside for TAG and Apache?

Instead, the corporate ‘community engagement’ drill is to have small, under-the-radar meetings where nothing is said on-the-record where it might be reported or seriously challenged. Quietly go about the business of filing for consents, have private meetings with council staff … hell, even fly a few to Canada to chat some more. Just keep your head down, meet the statutory requirements and get on with the drilling. And offer your email address to anyone amongst the riff-raff who wishes to continue the one-on-one ‘dialogue’ (

Was the briefing worthwhile? Marginally.

We did learn that if fracking were used in Phase 1 (four exploratory wells), which he rated as a 50/50 probability, then 500-600 cubic metres of water would be used per well (can we presume HBRC will hold Apache to that?). That Apache is not looking for or expecting any natural gas … just oil. That we’ll know if there’s any oil by the end of 2012 … but if it’s there, we won’t know its commercial viability for another eighteen months thereafter. And that if development is warranted, the Crown will still need to award the necessary development permit.

All of this assuming the Regional Council awards the necessary resource consents without any conditions that cause Apache to abandon its quest. I think Apache has no worries on that one!

Tom Belford

P.S. CHB farmer Greg Hart, who sparked the impressive 200-strong anti-fracking rally before Wednesday’s Council briefing, has caught some flack for his citizen activism. It seems that, like the rest of us, Greg indeed uses oil! And to some, that makes him a hypocrite for challenging a continued oil-based future. Here’s what Greg says in reply …

Please help … I’m an addict

Since organising the “Rally of Hope’ gathering in Napier on Wednesday which protested against plans to drill and frack for oil on the East Coast and also to celebrate all the good things we have in Hawkes Bay, it has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion the hypocrisy of protesting against oil companies while living an oil dependant life. While I accept the truth in the accusation, it isn’t quite that simple.

I freely admit I am addicted to oil like everyone else I know in NZ. However we now know beyond all reasonable doubt that the continued burning of fossil fuels at current rates will relatively soon lead to irreversible climate change and by later this century the end of civilisation as we know it.

But like any addiction, I think the first step is to admit to the addiction and then seek help. I guess while trying to wean myself I have been making massive changes to the way we farm, concentrating on sequestering carbon into our soils by holistic and biological fertility management. I have stopped using aircraft to apply fertilizer and am trying to perfect holistic grazing management and getting animals to spread fertility around the hill paddocks by giving them free choice minerals. (lots to learn yet!!) I am working to become largely self sufficient in nutrient inputs on the farm using products we make ourselves or are sourced locally. Phosphate still comes from overseas in the form of Guano from Indonesia. We will continue to monitor the feasibility of this.

I have taken 3 young people onto the farm to begin a Community Supported Ag type scheme to produce food for local consumption from an environmentally aware farm, and will soon open our farm not only to the visiting public but to people who want to have some ownership and build a relationship with the land and help to further the dream of sustainability.

Thanks largely to the Air New Zealand Environment Trust almost 100,000 trees  have been planted on the farm in the last 4 years, and we remain committed to increasing bio diversity and restoring eco systems.

On a personal note, I am aware of every litre of fuel I burn and try to justify that in the bigger scheme of things.

So please understand, I am trying to kick the habit!! And that is why I am seeking help from council and government and the wider community because yes I have a problem but I can’t beat it on my own. Like trying to give up smoking while living in a family of smokers and all your mates smoke, I just can’t do it by myself!

While oil is the lifeblood of the economy and most of the stuff we take for granted these days, we have to remember that humans have only had this addiction for a bit over 100 years, an infinitesimal time in the history of our species.


Do we put the hammer down and hit the wall in the road ahead at full speed (as per National government policy) or do we take the other road which might look a bit dusty but with human ingenuity and a new found respect and understanding of the web of life this alternative road could be much more fulfilling and give us more time to enjoy the journey.

I am an eternal optimist and believe that humans can still choose the alternative road, but the intersection is approaching fast.

You are invited to join us at

Greg Hart

Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Tom,

    Firstly not everyone will agree with you that fracking questions re earthquakes, a moratorium, water contamination , renewable energy and respect for first nation people are 'weird', but the one that interested me most was that HB people don't stand to gain much at all financially from oil drilling here, while the government gets only up to 5% in royalties from the oil.

    Secondly while Greg Hart is being thoughtful about climate change, it is an illusion that individuals and green consumerism can solve this problem. According to Clive Hamilton in 'Requiem for a Species- Why we resist the truth about climate change', it is dangerous to transfer the responsibility from the corporations mostly accountable for pollution and the governments that should be restraining them onto the shoulders of private consumers.

    It is a collective problem that demands collective solutions and strong policies enforced by governments.

  2. Also an audio visual recording of the full presentation to HBRC by Tag Oil plus the question and answer session is on the HBRC website and can be viewed and heard at
    or look on youtube for 3 HBRC – Apache Briefing – Apache Oil Exploration Project Briefing.

  3. Hi Liz,

    Questions about earthquakes, a fracking moratorium, and water contamination are certainly not 'weird' … and I didn't say they were. Don't put words in my mouth.

    What I DID say was 'weird' was asking questions that the presenter has absolutely no responsibility for or ability to influence — the name of his company (implying it is a travesty of Native American rights), and whether his company is looking into alternative energy, as two examples.

    Neither of those questions has one scintilla of relevance to whether or how oil exploration proceeds in Hawke's Bay. They were a waste of your scarce time as a Councillor to put meaningful and probing questions to the presenter — a missed opportunity.

    As for your comment on Greg Hart, I don't disagree at all that climate change is, as you say, a "collective problem that demands collective solutions and strong policies enforced by governments." Most serious environmental problems require tough government action … well beyond the tree planting and stream restoration days (ie, 'feel good' photo opportunities) that too often suffice for 'environmental action' here in Hawke's Bay.

    I read Greg's piece as a call for genuine community/political action … his very point was that individuals — be they farmers, consumers, or whatever — can't by themselves get us on the right path.


  4. Hello Tom.

    Not sure if you were around here in 1999 when the Qest-Westech joint venture gas pipeline was proposed. As a horticulturist I became involved as one of their pipeline routes was to be through our land. At a meeting I attened on the 10th of February 1999 with company representatives it quickly became evident they had NOT A CLUE on the problems they could encounter.

    They stated they required an 8/10 meter easement through private land, then next minute blew that when saying that their machinery required a 20 meter working width.

    They did not understand that hedges, fruit trees or vines couldn't just be "lifted" and then put back in the ground and continue growing unaffected.

    All in all it was a sobering experience. One where I learned NEVER believe these oil people. Oh yes they offered compensation all right. A "Gate Fee" of a one off payment of $150.00 to cover their access and an agreement to cover Restoration and Repairs" ($35.00 per hour) But…….

    I have often wondered why this project never took off, as they told us they had found huge quantites of gas just north of Frasertown. Can anybody enlighten me on this point?

  5. Tom I guess we will have to agree to differ on what we consider relevant and important-I think the wider view clarifies the world view of the oil company representatives, besides it is not unheard of for them to invest in renewable energy, wise even.

    Mr Ferguson was keen to point out how engaged he was with local hapu and iwi, strange then that his company had not shown the same consideration to his compatriots re the use of their name. This is a value that is important to indigenous people and I think it is revealing.

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