New Brunswick is normally seen as a quiet little province that does not get a lot of attention. That changed Thursday, Oct. 17, when the world watched in horror as an ongoing peaceful anti-fracking blockade spiraled into a situation nobody wants to witness.
In a pre-dawn raid, RCMP began enforcing the injunction granted to an oil and gas exploration company that had been blocked from their seismic testing for two weeks. The blockade, on unceded Aboriginal territory and backed by the largest First Nation in the province, had remained peaceful. But the RCMP advanced on the camp of First Nations, French and English protesters, with tactical force, guns drawn.
Arrests made during the raid included the Elsipogtog Chief and several Councillors. Police used fire hoses, tear gas and rubber bullets. Soon after, people not in the surrounded peaceful encampment burned several RCMP vehicles. The scene quickly became chaotic, and people from across the region came to the site of the standoff.
The community of Rexton, and all who bore witness are still sifting through the mess, the images and the emotions of the day. The incident is an unfortunate escalation of the frustration being felt across communities in New Brunswick.
Texas-based SWN Resources has been working against a tide of opposition growing in the province since the 2010 granting of exploration licenses. The regulatory framework allows for exploration to advance to development and production of gas without a trigger for a government “yes” or “no” decision. Protesting the seismic testing has become the means for expressing disapproval of allowing the industry to get its foot in the door.
This past summer saw SWN’s exploration work slow to a crawl with civil disobedience arrests during multiple actions. SWN had two years to finish seismic testing in another part of the province when they were faced with a blockade and similar hurdles.
The anti-shale gas movement is one of the largest grassroots movements in the recent history of New Brunswick. Over 30 community groups have formed an alliance, dozens of municipalities have passed resolutions against the industry setting up in their communities. Medical associations, churches and other organizations have echoed the concerns about water, air and public health.
The New Brunswick government remains committed to shale gas development. Even after the violence and amid cross-Canada calls of support and solidarity, particularly for Elsipogtog First Nation. The Premier insists there can be peaceful discussions, while refusing to question continued development of the industry.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick continues to call for a ban on shale gas fracking, and stands in solidarity with communities around the province who have been tireless defenders of our air, lands and waters.
We are allies in the spirit of peace and friendship with First Nations communities who struggle to protect inherent rights to land, waters and their way of life. We deeply regret the violence that has been displayed in our province. But it strengthens our resolve to display leadership and encourage others to come together to find solutions to heal our relationships, our communities and our environment — today more than ever.
Stephanie Merrill is the Director of the Freshwater Program with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. Stephanie is the organization’s spokesperson on shale gas and has been working in solidarity with communities across New Brunswick since the issue emerged.
This article was first published by the Huffington Post.