New Brunswick

Shale gas protesters to end blockade

Protesters angry over shale gas exploration in New Brunswick are continuing their blockade that has halted the movement of trucks owned by Southwestern Resources Canada that are used in seismic testing.
About 50 shale gas protesters blocked a dirt road near Stanley. The protest is continuing on Wednesday. CBC

Protesters angry over shale gas exploration in New Brunswick have agreed to end a blockade that halted the movement of trucks owned by Southwestern Resources Canada and used in seismic testing.

Roughly 50 protesters started the blockade on Tuesday on a small dirt road about 15 minutes north of Stanley.

The protesters stopped the movement of the company's vehicles that have equipment used in seismic testing in the area for underground shale gas.

The vehicles were blocked so they cannot haul equipment to another site.

The protesters agreed to end the blockade Wednesday evening after a lengthy meeting with local MLA Kirk MacDonald. MacDonald is a member of the governing Progressive Conservative party. 

Meryl Sarty, one of the protesters, said earlier Wednesday that an RCMP negotiator was at the blockade site.  Sarty had said the group was asking to meet with officials from the provincial government.

Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau issued a statement on Wednesday calling on Premier David Alward to meet with the protesters.

"This is a premier who campaigned on a promise of being open and transparent with New Brunswickers, and giving them the opportunity to have a voice on important issues," Boudreau said in the statement.

"However, he and his caucus have done the opposite on the issue of shale gas."

Boudreau said the Alward government could have avoided this protest if it had met with people concerned with shale gas exploration earlier in the process.

Alward did not meet with the blockade protesters, but he did speak to media in an interview captured by blogger Charles Leblanc.

Alward was confronted by angry protesters in Fredericton. Leblanc asked him how that made him feel.

"One of the things about governing is governing is about setting priorities and working in a very responsible way, ultimately to better our province. Decisions are not easy," he said.

The premier said other provinces were watching the "positive" progress in New Brunswick. "Anyone who would think I would want to destroy people's water couldn't be any further from the truth," Alward said.

"We are working in a very direct way, a responsible way, to ensure we put in place the robust regulatory regime and ultimately the monitoring to ensure that people and communities are protected and we continue to grow as an economy in our province."

He said he would not go to the protest.

"I fully support peaceful demonstrations. I do not support and cannot condone the blockade," he said.

Concern for drinking water

Maude McSorley said on Tuesday she has never been involved in a blockade before but she said she is concerned about shale gas exploration and the contentious process of hydraulic-fracturing.

Hydro-fracking uses water mixed with chemicals and sand and allows companies to access natural gas deposits. However, the protesters are concerned the process will ruin the water supply.

"If we don't have water to drink water, our crops water for our animals, we have nothing," she said.

Heather Whalen, another protester and a Lower Durham resident, described being involved in a protest as "scary."

"But I decided, as I was going, to stay in for the fight and do what we have to do stop this from happening," she said.

SWN Resources Canada called in extra security on Tuesday to protect their vehicles.

And then the company called the RCMP to watch over the blockade.

The RCMP did arrive and began urging people to move their vehicles. The protesters refused to move their vehicles, pledging to stay as long as they can.

Safety taken 'very seriously'

Mike Rhodes, a SWN official, said this is the first time in his decade with the company that he has been confronted by protesters.

"We take the safety of the public and our workers very seriously and when people block the road that causes concern for both safety and security and so in this case we had no choice  but to call the RCMP," he said.

This is the latest public display of opposition to shale gas exploration.

More than 1,000 people showed up for a protest in Fredericton on Aug. 1 to demonstrate against shale gas exploration and the use of hydro-fracking.

There have been other smaller protests around the province. A group of demonstrators showed up to a closed-door meeting in June when Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup unveiled new rules governing hydro-fracking.

The Fredericton Police had to remove some protestors from the government-organized meeting.

The New Brunswick government, under the new rules, will force companies to disclose the chemicals used in the hydro-fracking process, perform mandatory water testing and post a security bond to compensate landowners if there are any accidents.

The provincial government is also planning to set up a system that allows communities to tap into some of the natural gas companies’ profits.