RCMP officers on highway overpass

Anti-shale gas protests have closed Highway 11 near Rexton several times in recent weeks. (Jen Choi / CBC)

Policing costs associated with anti-shale gas protests in Kent County have reached more than $4 million over the past six months, says the Finance minister.

RCMP officers have been closely monitoring protests along Highway 11 on a daily basis for weeks.

Extra officers from other provinces have also been called in to help as SWN Resources Canada conducts seismic testing in the Rexton area.

"We have a contract with the RCMP," said Public Safety Minister Bruce Northrup. "It's not costing the communities around that area, it's directly coming from the provincial coffers, so as public safety, we're paying the bill right now," he said.

“I don’t want to spend it, to be honest with you," said Northrup.

"I’d rather put it in hospitals, or education, or schools, or health care, or take care of our seniors, but it’s something that we have to do," he said.

"My job as minister of Public Safety, my job is to protect the public."

Still, not everyone approached by CBC News on Thursday agrees with the spending.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Denis Cormier, of Dieppe. "I mean, it shouldn’t even be allowed."

"It's a lot of money," agreed Doum Legere. "You would think that money would be well served some place else."

Northrup says he's asking for peace from protesters to allow SWN Resources a few more days to finish its exploration work.

Even if that occurs, however, the police presence will remain and the policing bill will continue to grow.

Violent clashes

Clashes between protesters and police have continued despite a court injunction obtained by SWN Resources to keep protesters from interfering with its work.

Under the terms of the injunction, protesters 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.

But Highway 11 has been closed several times in recent days due to protests that have included blockades of tire fires.

On Oct. 17, dozens of protesters were arrested and six RCMP vehicles were torched.

Some of the $4 million is going toward replacing those vehicles, said RCMP Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh.

"Each could cost approximately $45,000, but that wouldn't include the equipment that was inside," she said. "So upwards to $300,000 plus, simply for those six vehicles that were destroyed by fire."

RCMP won't say how many extra officers have been brought in to help, or from where.

"I certainly can't confirm the numbers because that's operational and could potentially compromise the security of our members," said Rogers-Marsh.

SWN Resources has until Dec. 17 to complete its seismic mapping of the area.