Community of Penobsquis divided over MLA's push to revive fracking

The long-time MLA for Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins has made headlines this week with a push to have fracking revived in his riding by Christmas, but his claims to have community support for his efforts are being questioned.

Bruce Northrup says he has community support to bring fracking back, but some residents say no way

Beth Nixon is a landowner in Penobsquis with gas wells on her property. She is paid to have the wells on her land, but would rather forego the money and get rid of the wells. (Tori Weldon)

The long-time MLA for Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins has made headlines this week with a push to have fracking revived in his riding by Christmas but his claims to have community support for his efforts are being questioned.

The Gallant government placed what was then called a temporary moratorium on fracking in December 2014, but extended it to an indefinite ban earlier this year after failing to meet its own requirements.

Corridor Resources has a number of gas wells on Stephen Moffett's land. He said he was approached about 20 years ago to have it turned into wells. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

With a new PC government set to take power later this week, Bruce Northrup said it's time to lift the ban in communities that want it — like his.

"Constituents are saying they want it, the Chamber of Commerce wants it," he said. "It's been there since 1999."

But finding consensus in the eastern New Brunswick town of Sussex and nearby village of Penobsquis, where there are currently dozens of gas wells may not be as straightforward as Northrup suggests.

For example, while some members of the board of the Chamber of Commerce may be in favour of extracting natural gas in the area, others are not. 

"We're remaining neutral," said CEO Paul Bedford. 

Two landowners in Penobsquis, living a short distance from each other, both with gas wells on their property, have two very different takes on what should be allowed in their village. Both have deep roots in the community.

Beth Nixon has had wells on her property since approximately 2004, but she doesn't want them there. She says she makes less than $7,000 a year from leasing the land, and would happily give up the money if it meant having the wells removed. 

Moffett said if the government feels fracking is safe, he's comfortable having it developed in his area. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"There is a lot of worry about it and it was a pretty big decision to even stay in this community and one that I re-evaluate all the time because of these wells."

Nixon is an environmental activist, and said it's frightening to hear her MLA say he has permission to allow fracking in her community.

"(It) is very concerning because there is no social licence here," she said. "As near as I can tell they are telling fibs.

"He seems to have gone to very few businesses and decided that … he can go ahead with this in Penobsquis."

Nixon said the issue courts controversy in the region, and has been divisive in the village as well as in nearby Sussex.

"You know, we were just starting to heal from all that and recover," she said. "And now to bring up this issue that isn't probably even economically viable and to be out there telling stories about it it is very, very frustrating."

At a nearby farm, Stephen Moffet disagrees. He said the issue of fracking hasn't gone anywhere, it was just put on hold by the former Liberal government.

Corridor Resources has dozens of wells around the village of Penobsquis. CEO Steve Moran wouldn't comment on the local MLA's recent campaign to revive fracking in the area. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"The reality is this has been ongoing for something like 20 years, it's been going well," he said. "Unless there is some reason not to I think it's time we let these people go to work."

Moffet also has wells on his land, but he's happy to have them put there by Corridor Resources.

"They've been nothing but good to work with, they've treated us well."

Moffett understands that people have concerns and not everyone is on board for more gas wells in the area. But given a chance to have their say, he believes a majority of Sussex residents would be in favour of fracking.

"If the government is satisfied the oversight is in place, then you know, let's let them go ahead and do it," he said. 

Northrup hopes to have fracking back in the region by Christmas.

Corridor Resources CEO Steve Moran said he had no comment at this time.