New Brunswick

'Peoples Lawsuit' launched over shale gas

A so-called Peoples Lawsuit has been filed in a bid to stop shale gas development in New Brunswick.

18 citizens suing New Brunswick and federal governments and SWN Resources in bid to stop industry

Eighteen New Brunswickers are suing the provincial and federal governments and SWN Resources for allegedly violating aboriginal, Constitutional, environmental and international laws.

The so-called Peoples Lawsuit was filed in Saint John on Thursday in a bid to stop shale gas development in the province.

Plaintiff Marcel White contends the industry poses "extreme threats."

The plaintiffs are calling on the court to permanently remove the threat of shale gas development in New Brunswick. (Guy Leblanc/Radio Canada)
"The courts have to do their part to stop climate change and protect our lives," he said in a statement.

The legal action asks the court to evaluate its commitment to human rights and fairness in judicial proceedings, to right the many wrongdoings and to uphold the rule of law, peace and friendship treaties and the lawful rights of both indigenous people and citizens.

It comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance and three citizens against the provincial government over plans to develop the shale gas industry in New Brunswick.

The alliance, which represents 22 community organizations, and the three citizens, filed a notice of action and statement of claim with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John on Monday, alleging Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations.

​They are calling for a moratorium on the development of "unconventional oil and gas exploration" until the government can establish "beyond a reasonable doubt and with scientific certainty … that it will not contribute to climate change, nor to the contamination of the water, air and land use which causes harm to the health of the plaintiffs and their future generations."

May be additional lawsuits coming

Some of the plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit, who attended a news conference in Moncton on Thursday, hinted there could be other lawsuits pending.

Opponents of the shale gas industry have long argued the hydraulic fracturing process can cause water and air pollution.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking, involves injecting a mixture of water, air and chemicals into the earth under high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas trapped within the rock formations.

"We want our land and water to stay as it is for us and more important, our future generations," plaintiff Lorraine Clair said in a statement.

"With this, we want all oil and gas companies to stay off our lands and waters and to end any future plans of coming into our hunting, medicine and burial grounds," she said.

If I'm going to impact your land, your water, your air, your job, your living, with a decision that I'm making, you better be talking to me before you do it.-  Larry Kowalchuck, lawyer

Clair says she has been arrested for protesting against SWN and the courts have ordered that she not participate in any demonstrations.

"As aboriginal people, as a Mi'kmaq woman, I do have the right to protect my own land and to me, that's why I'm sitting here, is because those rights were taken away from me," she told CBC News..

The plaintiffs are also urging the provincial government to work toward developing greener energy, seeking full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, and want compensation for harm they allege has already been caused to them and their land.

Lawyer Larry Kowalchuck is representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits.

He says they are intended to force a conversation with the provincial government.

"They want the government and the people to sit in the courtroom and have a discussion about how can we use our money and resources in a way to give people real jobs in a respectful way. That's what it's about," said Kowalchuck.

"The position in these lawsuits is the duty to consult. In other words, if I'm going to impact your land, your water, your air, your job, your living, with a decision that I'm making, you better be talking to me before you do it," he said.

SWN Resources Canada intends to drill four exploratory wells in the next phase of its exploration program for potential shale gas development in New Brunswick.

Two of the exploratory wells are planned for Kent County, in Saint-Charles and Galloway. The other two are planned for Queens County, in the vicinity of Bronston Settlement Road and the Pangburn area.

Last month, a report by 14 international experts, commissioned by Environment Canada, concluded "data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive."