New Brunswick

Anti-fracking protesters celebrate indefinite moratorium

Anti-fracking protesters across New Brunswick are celebrating after Friday's announcement the provincial government has extended a hydraulic fracturing moratorium indefinitely.

Activists would rather ban be permanent, but pleased fight paid off

There were violent clashes between anti-fracking protesters and police in Rexton in the fall of 2013. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Anti-fracking protesters across New Brunswick are celebrating after Friday's announcement the provincial government has extended a hydraulic fracturing moratorium indefinitely.

They say they would prefer to see it be permanent, rather than indefinite.

Still, they are pleased their fight paid off.

"It's a big relief that I don't have to worry about my water," said Willi Nowlan, who was a prominent figure in the anti-fracking campaign in Rexton, where protesters and the RCMP clashed in 2013.

"You know, a lot of us didn't sleep for a long time."

Willi Nowlan, who put many hours into keeping a fracking exploration out of her community of Rexton, says the indefinite moratorium was a hard-won fight. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

She says it was a hard-won fight and after a lifetime of activism, she might finally be ready to take time off.

"The government did the right thing," said Nowlan. "Indefinite moratorium rings very sweetly to my ears."

Tensions peaked in 2013

In 2013, Protesters camped out in tents and trailers where SWN Resources was conducting seismic testing as part of shale gas exploration. They blocked a section of Highway 11 and blocked company vehicles from entering the site, off Route 134.

At least five police vehicles were burned during a protest in Rexton in 2013 that saw RCMP fire non-lethal bullets into the crowd and use pepper spray. (Courtesy of Gilles Boudreau)

In mid-October, tensions rose when RCMP moved to enforce a court-issued injunction against the blockade. RCMP fired non-lethal bullets into the crowd and used pepper spray during the standoff.

Some of the protesters retaliated, throwing rocks and burning at least five police vehicles.

Forty people were arrested for various offences, including firearms offences, uttering threats, intimidation, mischief and for refusing to abide by a court injunction.

Hopes for green energy

Now Denise Melanson, who served as spokeswoman for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, is also ready to take a step out of the limelight.

"Never, never ever did I think that I would be standing at the side of the road with a picket in my hand, or doing interviews with the media, or doing any of these things," she said.

But she felt it was her responsibility to do something she felt strongly about.

Denise Melanson, of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, says she never imagined herself as a protester, but felt she had to stand up for what she believed. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Melason hopes the province will now focus on green sources of energy.

"Build windmills, invite solar panel companies in, do the things that are going to take us into tomorrow."

Indefinite extension on fracking

Energy Minister Donald Arseneault announced the indefinite extension on fracking on Friday, in response to the February report from the Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing.

Arseneault said the shale gas industry has still not met the conditions necessary to lift the moratorium.

"Creating jobs is our number one priority, but not at any cost. It is clear that our conditions cannot be satisfied in the foreseeable future," he said in a statement.

Premier Brian Gallant's Liberals imposed a moratorium on the shale gas industry shortly after winning the election.

Decision follows commission's findings

The provincial government then appointed the hydraulic fracturing commission in March 2015 to investigate the contentious issue.

The three-member commission made several recommendations, including having a single, independent regulator for the industry.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking or fracking, is a process that involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, which creates cracks in shale rock formations and allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Opponents of the shale gas industry have long argued the fracking process can contaminate groundwater.

With files from Tori Weldon