Protesters crash MLAs' tour of shale gas fields

Dozens of demonstrators lined the road in Penobsquis, holding signs and banners protesting the Progressive Conservative government’s plan for shale gas development in the area.

People’s Alliance leader suggests referendum as possible way to determine social licence

Shale protesters lined the road to shale gas fields near Penobsquis on Tuesday while MLAs were given a tour of the facilities. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Corridor Resources invited New Brunswick MLAs to tour shale gas fields in the Sussex area on Tuesday, but they were greeted by some unexpected guests.

Dozens of demonstrators lined the road in Penobsquis, holding signs and banners protesting the Progressive Conservative government's plan for shale gas development in the area.

With lawmakers present, many rural residents took the chance to make their voices heard.

"I wish Mr. Higgs would be a little bit more forward thinking instead of going backward, because the oil and gas industry is going backward, that's what's happening," said Carol Ring.

"The future is renewable energy."

Here’s what citizens both for and against shale gas had to say about the proposed fracking in the Sussex area. In order of appearance Roy Ries, Carol Ring, Stewart Duncan and Jim Reid. 1:05

The tour concluded with a presentation in Sussex, where demonstrators were able to get some facetime with the MLAs, including Kris Austin. The People's Alliance leader was criticized by a crowd of people for his NIMBY-ism shown toward fracking.

Protesters took the opportunity Tuesday with MLAs in the area to make their voices heard. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The Alliance MLAs say they have hesitations about allowing it in their own ridings and could vote against it. But they say they will not try to stop fracking in ridings they don't represent.

"It's provincial legislation. If it's good enough here, it should be good enough everywhere," one individual told Austin. "You shouldn't be lifting a ban just on one region and putting us in the middle of it like this."

Austin replied: "Well, again, that's why I stress local residents should talk to their local MLA to express those concerns."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin speaks with shale gas protesters in Sussex on Tuesday. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

He suggested a referendum might be the best way to determine if the government has the social licence, or community approval, to permit fracking.

The PC throne speech passed by the legislature last Friday included a sub-amendment that exempts "communities in and around the town of Sussex" from a shale gas moratorium. The precise area around Sussex wasn't identified.

Residents divided

The crowd that gathered Tuesday wasn't solely anti-fracking. There are residents who see shale gas development as a way to improve the local economy.

"I feel that in these rural areas, if we don't find work, there's not gonna be nothing, and I don't want to live in a big city," said Stewart Duncan.

"I love living in a rural community so my feeling is that if we could move forward with this, the surrounding areas would benefit from this, like our hospitals, our schools, education and money from this is actually what pays for these places to be open."

We're in a climate crisis and we can't be increasing the production of fossil fuels anymore.- Green Leader David Coon

Others are more skeptical about the economic benefits.

"We're saying if you follow the science you'll know that this cannot be done safely, and it's really questionable that there are any real employment or economic benefits to fracking, so what's the point?" said Roy Ries.

It appears the minds of the MLAs won't be changing as a result of the tour.

"All of the serious risks of fracking and shale gas development remain," said Green Party Leader David Coon.

Green Leader David Coon, right, and Green MLA Megan Mitton won't be changing their stance on fracking after Tuesday's tour of gas fields. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"We're in a climate crisis and we can't be increasing the production of fossil fuels anymore."

Liberal MLA Cathy Rogers says the current moratorium imposed by the former Gallant government should still be used as a guiding principal when in comes to shale gas development. It has five conditions that must be met before fracking can go ahead.

They are: social licence to extract shale gas; reliable data on health; environmental and water impacts; a plan to dispose of wastewater; proper Indigenous consultations; and a proper structure for the province to collect royalty payments.

 "We are not at that point," said Rogers.

With files from Tori Weldon