Fredericton – Peter DeMarsh of the Taymouth Community Association was surrounded on both sides by two rows of community group representatives as he announced the formation of a New Brunswick-wide alliance of 28 groups opposed to shale gas on September 7th in Fredericton.
“We represent many interests, all age groups, and we speak English, French, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq. Among our members we count farmers, scientists, homemakers, teachers, craftsmen, artists, engineers and professional and working people,” said DeMarsh.
DeMarsh made it clear that the provincial government has failed the people of New Brunswick on the shale gas issue. “We are left to our own devices to both educate ourselves and take what peaceful actions we can to protect our rights, lives and the province that we love,” said DeMarsh.
Affirming the commitment to grow the alliance against shale gas, Alma Brooks, a Maliseet elder from St. Mary’s First Nation, said, “The Maliseet Grand Council will bring together the Wabanaki Confederacy and forge alliances with non-native populations in New Brunswick for the purpose of protecting the land, water and the air that we breathe.”
BanFracking NB, one of the 28 groups, has been engaging the public for months on the topic of shale gas. Terri Telasco, a spokeswoman with the group said, “The goals of the alliance are to counter the government and industry lines with credible scientific research and by telling the stories of affected people on the front lines.”
Signs featuring an angry water drop holding a stop sign that says, “no shale gas,” are growing in numbers on the lawns and poles in many communities across New Brunswick, a province where 60 percent of the population gets their drinking water from groundwater sources.
DeMarsh noted that opposition to shale gas is not just related to concerns over water.
“It is about transformation of a vast landscape of the most liveable parts of New Brunswick into an industrial landscape,” said DeMarsh. He pointed to other jurisdictions like Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Jersey and New York that have implemented a moratorium on shale gas activity as well as France that has banned shale gas development.
“Our government seems oblivious to this, as well as to the increasing numbers of studies questioning the safety, economic benefits and the sustainability of this industry. The industry is now the subject of investigations in the U.S. that could lead to criminal charges. The number of civil lawsuits, ‘consent agreements’ and fines continues to grow, as do the numbers of ruined lives and livelihoods,” stressed DeMarsh.
Armand Paul with the Penniac Anti-Shale Gas Organization spoke of the toxins used in shale gas and pointed out that the government does not have a representative from the Department of Health on the province’s Shale Gas Working Group.
“Scientists have examined more than 350 chemicals used in shale gas operations, and they’ve found that more than 75 percent of those are chemicals that can have serious negative effects on peoples’ skin, eyes, sensory organs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Up to half of those chemicals can affect our brains and nervous systems, our immune and cardiovascular systems and our kidneys. Thirty-seven percent can affect our endocrine systems and 25 percent can cause cancer and mutations,” said Paul.
DeMarsh called the government’s rationale behind its support for shale gas a fantasy and their actions insulting, “[The government believes] that New Brunswick will succeed where all others have failed. It has refused to participate in any substantive discussion, and it insults the citizenry with accusations that our views are hysterical and merely based on a movie.”
In late August, Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney apologized to the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for her remarks that the organization was tacitly supporting violence by participating in blockades and for “peddling the film Gasland.”
CCNB Action’s Freshwater Coordinator Stephanie Merrill has researched and engaged communities on shale gas for over one year. She points out that her organization has never organized a film screening of the Oscar-nominated film, Gasland. She maintains that she has been invited by community groups as a resource person to speak at their film screenings and panel discussions. Merrill’s knowledge of shale gas activity and policies in the province and her visits to the communities affected by shale gas extraction in Arkansas has made her a sought after resource person.
Merrill plans to visit shale gas operations in Horn River Basin near Fort Nelson, B.C. later this month to get acquainted with the impacts of the industry there. Her visit will happen almost two months after Premier David Alward visited the area and said that the shale gas operation is going quite well. Lana Lowe with the Fort Nelson First Nation was quoted by CBC on August 15th saying that, “It’s a huge environmental issue… The government doesn’t know the impacts, we don’t know what the impacts are going to be…. Common sense tells us that it’s not sustainable, it’s not healthy, and yet it’s being done… with the blessing of the government.”
Jim Emberger with the Taymouth Community Association defended the Gasland film: “It has become stylish for industry and government to pooh-pooh the film, Gasland. The film begins with an investigation of reports of methane contaminated drinking water in residential wells in Dimock Township, PA. The Minister of Energy, Craig Leonard, wrote in the Telegraph-Journal that he personally knew the Dimock scenes were ‘dishonest.’ Well, apparently not, Mr. Minister. Those Dimock folks are receiving a share of $4.1 million dollar settlement with Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.”
Drawing attention to the 1,955 open violations of regulations in Pennsylvania by gas drilling companies in the first five months of 2011 alone, Emberger explained, “These include multiple occurrences of blowouts with a release of fracking fluid, spills of production fluids, defective cementing of well casings and the failure to report them, uncontrolled releases of gases–sometimes to combustible levels, failure to plug abandoned wells, and contamination of land, water and wetlands with a variety of pollutants due to broken pipes, leaking tanks, inadequate controls, building in unauthorized areas, accidents during transport and willful lawbreaking.”
Emberger called out the government for downplaying concerns with fracking: “By repeating the phrase, ‘there are no proven cases of fracking contaminating water with fracking fluids,’ they create a straw man, which they then attack with sophistry, semantics and rhetoric, but little honesty.”
Patricia Leger with Memramcook Action responded to the government, industry and media portrayals of the anti-shale gas activists as violent, fear-mongering, gullible hillbillies.
“We hear seemingly baseless accusations of violence and intimidation made by the industry, which are then repeated by government as if proven. Yet, the government is silent about the violence perpetrated on unsuspecting citizens who awake one morning to warnings that they must have their water tested, followed by the arrival of fleets of futuristic looking thumper trucks in front of their homes. The government then attempts to soothe their fears by offering new regulations to protect the citizens, only to admit weeks later that the regulations don’t actually exist, and will do the citizens no good,” said Leger.
Next on the agenda of the anti-shale gas groups is a march planned in Moncton for September 17th at 12 noon called FrAction Moncton. The march will start at the Hal Betts Ball Field, corner of Assomption and Vaughn Harvey Boulevards, and will go to the Moncton City Hall, which is next to the office of SWN Resources. SWN, holding the largest shale gas license in the province, said they will be abandoning their work on shale gas this year but vow to return to work next year.
About 1,500 marched through the streets of Fredericton on New Brunswick Day in united opposition to shale gas. A blockade in Stanley on August 9-10th stopped the passage of SWN Resources’ seismic vibrators. Sidewalk protests in front of the government offices at the Centennial Building are ongoing on Thursdays. The newly-formed alliance invites more people to become involved in the movement against shale gas by knocking on doors, hosting information parties and passing out literature at public gatherings.
“While government and industry retool their public relations campaigns to polish their images, we will mount a public engagement campaign to furnish the facts,” said DeMarsh. Leger added, “While our groups entered this fray reluctantly, the enthusiasm, concern, intelligence and will that we have found in our neighbours has given us resolve and commitment. We are not going away.”
Tracy Glynn is the forest campaigner at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.