New documentary highlights 'environmental catastrophe' in Taranaki

By Jessica Tyson

A new short documentary has shone a light on an environmental catastrophe in New Zealand’s backyard, the expansion of oil and natural gas operations in Taranaki.

A fracking tour of Taranaki was directed by Ethan Alderson-Hughes, and is one of six new sustainability-focused short films premiering on Māori Television's website, and the Māori+ app this month.

The film follows a local teacher and climate activist, Sarah Roberts, on her tour of gas sites across Taranaki. Alderson-Hughes says in his work, he seeks to combine his love for cinema and environmental activism through documentary filmmaking.

“My personal connection is climate grief and how that grief urges me to investigate environmental issues in Aotearoa,” he says.

Climate activist Sarah Roberts with filmmakers. Source: File

Despite the Government’s pledge to be net carbon zero by 2050, onshore fossil gas exploration and production continues in the Taranaki region. From water contaminants to fireballs, the film shows the widespread impacts that oil and gas production has had on the community and environment in the region.

"On a more micro level you’re looking at noise and light pollution, air pollution directly affecting houses that are right next door to these sights. You’ve also got a risk of potential explosion from these sites, says Alderson-Hughes.

“On a more macro level you’ve got discharge into water systems that are being consumed by the community there, and you’ve also got our emissions contributing to climate change. It affects everybody.”

Sarah Roberts and Emily Bailey at a maara kai in Parihaka. Source: File.

In the film, Sarah Roberts visits Emily Bailey from Climate Justice Taranaki in Parihaka. Together they talk about how Parihaka has been protected from oil and natural gas operations.

“I think it speaks to the power of indigenous knowledge in the climate space, moving forward especially. If we think of natural gases as a finite resource we need to look at communities who are already thriving in the process of getting away from natural gas, Alderson-Hughes says.

“The most rewarding part for me was working with the wāhine at the frontline of this climate action. They are really inspirations for any budding climate activist and they’ve been doing it for a long time now."

Alderson-Hughes says he plans to have a short break from filmmaking before his next project.

“I ask myself hard questions about what’s film’s role in a world where climate change is such an exponential threat and I decided I’d pursue using my experience and skills to try and fight for our future to try and fight for climate.”

Someday Stories - A Fracking Tour of Taranaki