Anti-shale gas protest closes Highway 11 in N.B. for hours
RCMP arrest 5 men for breaching court order not to interfere with SWN Resources' exploration
New Brunswick's Highway 11 near Rexton was closed for about three hours Friday and some exits were blocked due to an ongoing anti-shale gas protest.
At least five of the estimated 50 protesters have been arrested for breaching a court injunction that was obtained by SWN Resources Canada last week, RCMP Const. Jullie Marsh-Rogers confirmed.
Under terms of the court order, protesters cannot interfere with the company's shale gas exploration. They must stay 20 metres away from the side of roads where the company is working and 250 metres away from the front or back of its trucks.
Friday's arrests brings the total to 14 since Monday. The five men remain in custody, said Marsh-Rogers.
Some protesters were also throwing rocks at approximately 70 RCMP officers and police vehicles, she said, declining to comment on whether the five people arrested were involved.
No one was injured, she said.
RCMP reopened the highway by late afternoon, shortly after the trucks that were conducting seismic testing left the area.
When seeking the injunction on Nov. 22, a lawyer for SWN Resources told the Court of Queen's Bench that the company needed only 10 days or so to complete its exploration for shale gas in New Brunswick.
But the company has applied for an extension to the order and will be back in court on Monday.
SWN has said if the extension is not granted the company will suffer irreparable damage. The company is losing more than $50,000 a day when protesters inhibit its ability to work and almost all of its 1,000 recording stations used in seismic testing have been destroyed by vandals, officials have said.
The protest started peacefully in the morning, but tensions started to rise over the lunch hour as SWN Resources Canada's trucks approached the protest site, located near the intersection of Route 505.
The RCMP presence increased as the trucks inched closer to the protesters.
At the peak, about 70 RCMP officers were at the scene, urging the outnumbered protesters to obey the court injunction.
The officers told them they needed to follow the parameters of the order and protest peacefully and lawfully.
They later formed a line and ordered the protesters to move back.
"They have tear gas, they have guns, we have nothing," said protester Mary Okay. "They're the ones that are blocking the road right now."
The highway was closed to all traffic at about 12:45 p.m. AT. Police started allowing some vehicles through shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, but the highway was closed again by 1:40 p.m. local time.
'We were within our rights,' protester says
Protester Gary LaFrance contends the protesters were abiding by the distance restriction.
"I was emphatic in saying we were within our rights of being where we were because we’re more than 20 metres away form the equipment, and [an officer] said he didn’t want to debate that with me, and that it wasn’t up for discussion and we're not here to discuss legal papers," LaFrance told CBC News.
"I said, 'We’re still within our rights' and he says, 'Right now you aren’t.' So he forced us back across the other side of the Richibucto sign, and he wanted us to go back to the overpass, and we refused to go any further than we did and that's when things got a little heated, but not out of control," LaFrance said.
"But if things get out of control, it's actions like that that’s going to cause things to get out of control because no one was looking for trouble here, and they moved in on some of the protesters and arrested them when they were well within their rights to be where they were."
I think it's a disgrace. I think the community is standing up for the environment, and the police are protecting the company, and that's not right.- Nancy Strabach, protester
RCMP later assembled a second blockade on the overpass, located near the northbound Richibucto exit, to keep protesters from standing directly over the vibroseis trucks as they rumbled by.
Some of the protesters were hitting the guardrails, hoping the vibrations would affect the seismic testing.
The trucks passed without incident, but some of the protesters were shouting at the officers. "Move, move," they chanted.
Some people accused the officers of acting like private security for the company.
"I think it's a disgrace," said Nancy Strabach. "I think the community is standing up for the environment, and the police are protecting the company, and that's not right.
"We're taxpayers and we're law-abiding citizens and this is the way we're treated. And our politicians are siding with the company and that's not right."
Some of the protesters contend the court injunction is just a piece of paper, while others say it doesn't apply to them because they were never personally served.
They told CBC News they plan to continue their fight against shale gas.
There was a violent clash between protesters and RCMP on Oct. 17 when police moved in to enforce another court order. Five police vehicles were burned about 40 people were arrested.