CBC: Stage set for shale gas showdown

SWN Resources to resume exploration this week while aboriginal leaders vow to continue protests

By Jacques Poitras, CBC News Posted: Nov 04, 2013 6:37 AM AT Last Updated: Nov 04, 2013 6:37 AM AT

It could be another contentious week in New Brunswick on the issue of shale gas development.

Premier David Alward has confirmed that SWN Canada is planning to resume exploration for shale gas in Kent County in the coming days and weeks.

John LeviElsipogtog warrior chief John Levi says protests will start again if SWN Resources resumes exploring for shale gas this week. (Jacques Poitras / CBC)

​And that has prompted warnings from aboriginal activists that there will be more protests in an attempt to stop the company.

RCMP moved in Oct. 17 to end a road blockage on Route 134, near Elsipogtog First Nation.

Mi’kmaq warrior chief John Levi says that crackdown won’t deter new protests if SWN returns.

“We never back down, and what the RCMP did that day doesn’t scare me,” he said on Saturday. “It doesn’t scare anybody. They can do that every day if they want and we’ll still be out there.”

Levi says if there are new confrontations, it won’t be the result of aboriginal actions.

Claim markerMembers of Elsipogtog First Nation used markers like this to reclaim parcels of Crown land. (Jacques Poitras / CBC)

“It’s always peaceful on our side,” he said. “It’s up to them. But you know we never back down.”

There are also plans for a protest this week at the New Brunswick Legislature, which begins a new session on Tuesday.

Levi was among 20 Elsipogtog band members who began hammering wooden stakes into the ground on the weekend to lay claim to large areas of public land in Kent County.

Each person who hammered in a stake will take responsibility for that parcel of land.

“Since the Alward government and Prime Minister Harper are unable to take care of it, we, the Mi’kmaq people in our district, are going to be taking care of it ourselves,” Levi said.

While experts say it’s unlikely the action will have any legal weight, it’s intended to symbolize Mi’kmaq refusal to allow shale gas exploration on traditional territory.

Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock said on Friday the band’s lawyer had been notified that SWN would resume its work on Monday.

Staking a claimImelda Augustine of Elsipogtog with Malcolm Ward on the side of Route 11 near Kouchibouguac, preparing to hammer in her stake on Saturday. (Jacques Poitras/ CBC)

No one from SWN responded on the weekend to CBC News requests for confirmation. But Premier David Alward told reporters he understands the work will resume soon.

“My understanding is they’re looking at finishing their exploration work this fall and that that would be taking place in the coming weeks,” he said in Moncton.

Alward said he has been trying to work with aboriginal leaders, and remains open to negotiating with them, “but it takes both sides” to find a solution.

Sock has called for a six-month moratorium on exploration to allow for negotiations, but Alward says the government is “determined” to let SWN continue its work.

“We support that exploration fully and we look forward to them being able to finish the work they’ve begun,” he said.

There was support for Alward’s position among delegates who were registering on Sunday for the provincial government’s annual Exploration, Mining and Petroleum conference.

Tom Hoyt, the Atlantic sales rep for a company that supplies grease and other lubricants to mining companies, was setting up his booth on Sunday afternoon.

“I think there’s definitely a possibility here” for economic growth with shale gas, he said. “People need to listen to all the facts and not jump to conclusions.”

“New Brunswick’s in an economic position where we need opportunities such as shale gas in order to stimulate our economy and provide work and so on,” he said, “and it’s been proven that it’s very safe.”