New Brunswick

NB Power asked to remove anti-fracking signs from poles

Energy Minister Craig Leonard's political assistant asked NB Power to remove all anti-shale gas signs from its utility poles as anger was building across the province last summer.

Energy Minister's political assistant made the request in summer 2011

Protests were springing up across the province in 2011 to the shale gas industry. A political assistant to the province's energy minister requested NB Power remove all anti-shale gas signs from its power poles. (Matt McCann/CBC) (Matt McCann/CBC)

Energy Minister Craig Leonard’s political assistant asked NB Power to remove all anti-shale gas signs from its utility poles as anger was building across the province last summer.

CBC News has obtained emails through the Right to Information Act from NB Power and the Department of Energy outlining a request from Jacob Baisley, the executive assistant to the energy minister, requesting the anti-shale gas signs come down.

The original request came from a phone call from Baisley to Heather-Anne MacLean, the director of corporate relations for NB Power at the time.

"We have just received a call asking that we enforce our RSP requirement of not having signs on poles. Apparently there is quite a campaign going on in Sussex with anti-fracking signs being put up on utility poles," MacLean wrote on July 8.

A few minutes later in an email with the subject line, "Urgent Request," the utility official tried to figure out who would be dispatched to meet the Department of Energy’s request and who would pay for NB Power staff to remove the signs.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup spoke with anti-shale gas protesters in August 2011. (CBC) (CBC)

"Can you discuss this with Gaetan [Thomas, the NB Power president]. Phil [Landry of NB Power] called me and advised that he did not have the resources for this and therefore it would have to be done after hours, which means that someone would have to be charged to recover the costs as per the [Rates, Schedules and Policies Manual]," MacLean wrote to Sherry Thomson, NB Power’s vice-president of distribution and customer service.

"Here’s the issue, the request came from Energy. I don’t know how to proceed and obviously don’t have the authority to approve this."

Protests across New Brunswick

The Department of Energy’s request came as protests were popping up across the province against hydro-fracking and shale gas development.

On June 23, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup announced at a meeting new rules that would apply to the mining and hydro-fracking industry.

Fredericton Police removed protesters from a government-organized meeting to announce new hydro-fracking rules on June 24, 2010. (CBC) ((CBC))

Outside that meeting, protesters were lining the streets and at one point some protesters had to be removed from the meeting room by the Fredericton Police.

Later that summer, a series of large protests and blockades were held across the province. A few weeks after Baisley's request, roughly 1,000 people marched to the legislature in Fredericton to protest the shale gas industry.

NB Power does have a policy that says attaching items, such as signs, to its facilities is prohibited.

There is no explanation in the communication about why Baisley and the energy department wanted the anti-shale gas signs down at that point. There is also no mention of any other signs that the energy department wanted to be removed.

However, the next week, NB Power did send out staff to look for anti-shale gas signs on power poles.

But Melissa Morton, an official at the utility, wrote back to Baisley saying they could not find any signs on poles in Sussex. She asked the political assistant if the signs could be elsewhere.

"They are also found in Fredericton, you can see them on utility poles," he wrote at 7:08 p.m. on July 12.

After Morton wrote back asking if they could be in the Durham Bridge area, he wrote: "I have not confirmed them. I would focus on Fredericton."

There were many protests in the Fredericton area over shale gas exploration.

As well, Leonard, who was energy minister at the time of the request, is a Fredericton-area MLA.

Premier David Alward shuffled Leonard from the Department of Energy to the newly-created Department of Government Services.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has been the lead cabinet minister responsible for the shale gas file in recent months.

However, Leonard removed himself from any discussions around the shale gas industry after his sister took a job with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.