About 400 shale gas opponents marched through the streets of Fredericton and rallied in front of the N.B. Legislature over the noon hour on Tuesday, Nov. 27th as New Brunswick MLAs returned to work. The rally goers relayed their call for a province-wide ban on shale gas to Energy Minister Craig Leonard, other ministers and other MLAs as they entered the Legislature.
“The strength of our grassroots movement was evident by the large number of groups represented in the march,” said Mark D’Arcy, a member of the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. “What impressed me the most was to have the large parade lead by the Grade 5 students from Chief Harold Sappier School (St. Mary’s First Nation) and ended by farmers from the New Brunswick Chapter of the National Farmers’ Union. This show of solidarity gives me confidence that we will stop shale gas fracking in this province.”
“Once again I am reminded of the sense of community that this grassroots movement has created,” said Stephanie Merrill, CCNB Action’s Shale Gas Alert campaigner. “Speaking up can be very intimidating in this province and I am so proud and humbled to be among such a strong and committed community of people — young, old, rural, urban, farmers, small business owners — who are standing up for clean air, land and water and our New Brunswick identity.”
Shale gas opponents say they decided to hold a rally targeting the Alward Conservative government because the government has not given any indication that it is willing to ban or impose a moratorium on fracking, despite mounting evidence on the threats it poses.
“We want to remind our government at the opening of the Legislature that the people of New Brunswick have not given their consent to go ahead with this industry, and that we still demand an immediate stop to any further exploration or development,” said Julia Linke, one of the rally organizers.
St. Mary’s Chief Candice Paul was one of a dozen speakers at the rally. She reminded the Alward government that they do not have the consent of the St. Mary’s First Nation and the government is failing to meet their duties and obligations to First Nations. “We say no to shale gas and no to the Alward government,” said Chief Paul.
The movement against shale gas and fracking has spread quickly in New Brunswick following the revelation that the former Graham Liberal government had granted permission to shale gas companies to explore large tracts of land in the province. The dissemination of information of how the industry had adversely affected communities south of the border in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas has emboldened the movement.
“Most natural gas reserves in New Brunswick are unconventional, meaning that they can only be extracted with a relatively new technology called high-volume, horizontal slickwater fracturing (fracking),” explained Merrill. “Fracking is an inherently contaminating industrial process that injects millions of litres per well of water laced with toxic chemicals at enormous pressure to break apart rock and release hydrocarbons from underground formations such as shale.”
“There is mounting evidence from other jurisdictions that the health, social and environmental risks are serious and the economics are hyped,” said Adjunct University of Calgary Professor Guillermo Castilla who is based in Taymouth. “Our government has a duty to prevent harm and stop any further development until this technology is proven safe and a comprehensive business case is developed.”
Greg Cook, an emcee for the rally, reminded rally goers of the public support for a ban on shale gas in the province. Of 1800 responses to a November 2011 CBC survey, 80 per cent said environmental concerns outweigh the desire for revenue from fracking, and 61 per cent called for a total ban on hydraulic fracturing. More than 20,000 petitioned the Alward government to abandon shale gas development in 2011. “Democracy in New Brunswick is broken and on life support,” said Cook.
Shale gas opposition can be counted not only in the hundreds gathered at the weekday rally in front of the Legislature this week but also in number of grassroots groups that have formed across the province in response to the threat of shale gas development in their backyards and in the number of cities, towns, villages, unions and associations taking a stand against the industry.
The cities of Moncton and Bathurst, town of Sackville, villages of Memramcook, Minto, Stanley and Sussex Corner, the Association francophone des municipalités du N-B, NB Nurses Union, NB National Farmers Union, Maritime Conference of the United Church of Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), NB College of Family Physicians, medical staff at Sackville Memorial Hospital, medical doctors at the Moncton Hospital and Georges Dumont Hospital, and the Federation of Rural New Brunswickers have all passed resolutions against shale gas.
Environmental groups like CCNB and anti-shale gas groups are decrying the Alward government’s onslaught of deregulation that they say only serves private interests like shale gas while it threatens the province’s precious freshwater, wetlands, land and air.
Jim Emberger, a community organizer with the Taymouth Community Association who worked as a regulator in the U.S. Department of Energy, described how industry lobbies the government at the rally.
“Have your friends in government exempt you from health and safety regulations, thus avoiding expensive safeguards, which if added to the already expensive process of hydrofracking would make shale gas unprofitable. In New Brunswick, that means getting your friends in government to gut the legislation covering wetlands, river classification, and clean air,” said Emberger.
Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney introduced a controversial wetland map on March 16, 2011, that did not include 60% of wetlands in the province. At one media conference on changes to regulations protecting wetlands, Blaney embraced a developer. Then Minster Blaney and now Minister Bruce Fitch have failed to implement the Water Classification Regulation on grounds due to “glitches” that have yet to be explained, thus leaving watersheds without proper enforceable water quality standards in the face of large-scale shale gas and mining activities.
Shale gas opponents say the deregulation for shale gas is ongoing. In November, the New Brunswick government introduced a loophole that exempts all shale gas operations from the provincial Clean Air Act. “The Alward government pledged to develop world-class regulations to oversee the shale gas industry – to strengthen existing regulations and not dismantle them,” said D’Arcy.
Shale gas opponents note that the best regulations may not prevent or reverse disastrous effects of human error or change the laws of physics and chemistry. “There are no regulations that can prevent blowouts, spills, truck crashes and accidents. There are no regulations that can prevent the deterioration of cement casings of wells and leakages or the dispersion of carcinogenic substances from well sites that could migrate tens of kilometres from the source of emission,” said Linke, a Post-Doctoral Fellow studying landscape ecology and mother of two based in Taymouth.
Threats to the province’s fresh water is not the only concern with shale gas weighing heavily on the opponent’s minds. Public health concerns feature prominently in the opposition to shale gas.
One of those marching against shale gas on the cold November morning was Ruth Wolpin, a breast cancer survivor from Bloomfield. “She takes the view that the potential long-term health costs to the province that shale gas would bring vastly outweigh the short-term jobs and revenues promised by this industry. Her son grows pesticide-free produce which he provides for 400 families. Wolpin’s brush with cancer and her concern for her son’s livelihood and the safety of our food supply brought her here today,” says Margo Sheppard, a long-time advocate for nature.
About 40 shale gas supporters were also present, arguing that the province needs the jobs and economic prosperity that shale gas development could bring.
Deborah Rogers, a renowned financial analyst, spoke in Fredericton earlier in November and debunked myths that shale gas brings jobs and prosperity to communities. She noted that of the 40 U.S. counties that have been heavily drilled in that country’s three major shale gas plays, almost all have a median income, retail sales and employment rates below their state average. Other economists argue that the shale gas sector creates fewer jobs than alternative energy sectors that do not threaten the water and air of communities and that in the long term help avoid the costly and devastating impacts of climate change.
Rally organizers say it was gratifying to have so much support. “I think this rally struck a different chord with the public, just when people are beginning to learn more about the shale gas industry and the jeopardy it could place upon our future, particularly to a province our size and with the types of geology we have in the drilling lease areas. Maybe people are beginning to step out of their comfort zone to genuinely work to put this province on a more progressive path than the one David Alward has in mind,” said Terry Wishart, one of the rally organizers based in Harvey.
Watch the rally online here. Video courtesy of Doug Sutherland.