About 200 people filled the Taymouth Community Centre on Wednesday evening, June 15, for their opportunity to ask questions and make statements to a panel of invited guests, including representatives from the government departments of Natural Resources, Environment, Health and the Executive Office as well as Southwestern Energy (SWN) — the oil and gas company with the rights to search for oil and gas throughout the Nashwaak Valley.
Concerned citizens from Taymouth, Penniac, Durham Bridge, Stanley, Tay Creek, and even Boiestown, Doaktown, and Chipman came together, forfeiting Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The building was overflowing and extra seats had to be set up in the kitchen and an upstairs room was wired with speakers.
One by one, residents approached the microphone bringing forward scientific evidence, personal accounts from elsewhere and asked how government and industry were going to guarantee that environmental destruction and human health impacts would not happen here. Many in attendance were disappointed with vague answers and upset with complete brush offs of impacts that people have felt in other places, including Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
Armand Paul, the spokesperson for the Penniac Anti Shale Gas group, described his feelings on the situation, stating that “it feels like SWN has proposed a new airplane and we are already sitting on that airplane, and now we are taxiing down the runway, just to find out that the pilot is in training”.
Another landowner asked, “How bad does it have to get, before you consider it a bad idea? How many wells gone bad, how many people getting sick, how much rural industrialization has to happen”?
The overarching response by both government and industry was that strong regulations can deal with the concerns brought forward. “We won’t do it if we cannot do it in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner”, stated Tom Alexander, the Regional Manager for SWN Resources Canada. At one heated point toward the end of the evening, he told the audience that if they just opened up SWN’s brochures, “you might learn something”.
Those in attendance repeated continually, however, that doing it in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner seems to be a problem. The room erupted in cheers, whistles and foot stomping from the room above whenever a comment was made telling government and industry that they do not want shale gas exploration in their communities – demanding the oil and gas company to leave town.
Similar responses are being echoed to government and industry panels around SWN’s license area.
The very same day as the Nashwaak Valley meeting, about 40 people gathered in protest of SWN’s open house in Boiestown, 30 people gathered in Marysville for a screening of Gasland, and about 300 people packed the auditorium of the MFR High School in St. Louis de Kent for a community information session on shale gas. In the month of June alone there are 17 shale gas-related events on the calendar in communities throughout the province. Video clips of residents’ statements from previous meetings in Harvey and Upham capture the sentiment of the meetings elsewhere.
Meeting in Harvey (videos)
Stephanie Merrill is with the Conservation Council of NB.