Rabble: Everything you need to know about Elsipogtog

Everything you need to know about Elsipogtog

| October 23, 2013

A beautiful reworking of an iconic image from Elsipogtog, by Mi’kmaq artist Jayce Augustine. The original photo was taken by Oss

Though I will be writing on the events that took place on October 17, 2013 when the RCMP raided a peaceful blockade by members of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation, for now I just want to provide people with some already available and excellent resources on the subject. What I won’t be doing is linking to the plethora of unbelievably racist articles that are pouring out, branding the people of Elsipogtog as everything from terrorists, to puppets of environmental NGOs. These pieces already have mainstream attention, capture mainstream attitudes towards indigenous peoples, and are pretty successfully creating the official narrative.

If you want to delve deeper, or need resources with which to counter these portrayals, here you go!

If you have time for only one article, then you need to read this one, written by Martin Lukacs: “New Brunswick fracking protests are the frontline of a democratic fight.”

It does an excellent job of refocusing attention on the reason the blockade existed in the first place, and on the fact that the area in question has never been ceded to Canada, and thus is not owned by Canada. The people of Elsipogtog have been branded as law breakers, but the legality of Canadian actions in that area are completely undermined by this very central fact.

To keep us in that vein, here is an article from 2012 which discusses the fact that 67 per cent of people in New Brunswick support a moratorium on fracking. This is an intensely controversial practice and people throughout Canada and the US, native and non-native alike, stand in opposition to it. The people of Elsipogog are not on the fringe of an issue here, they are in the majority.

For a really good breakdown of the order in which things happened, Daniel Wilson provides us with, “Out of order: Indigenous protest and the rule of law“. He brings up some important issues about the public’s love affair with the ‘rule of law’ from such a distinctly one-sided perspective, which ignores the underlying illegitimacy of Canadian claims to the land in question and the unceasing violation of the ‘rule of law’ by the Crown.

This article: “Elsipogtog “Clashes” 400 years in the making”, by Dru Oja Jay, goes into good detail about some of the history of the area, and how high tensions have run between the Mi’kmaq and the Canadian government. State violence against the Mi’kmaq people has been an ongoing problem, and Elsipogtog is merely the latest in a line of such.

 flickr/flailingphantasm

Leanne Simpson, in her brilliant piece “Elsipogtog Everywhere” brings more context to the deeper issue of the land, and the way in which reconciliation cannot occur without a conversation about that land. If you need to know what deeper acts of resurgence are occurring outside of reactive blockades to deal with lack of consultation and the prioritising of corporate interests over the wishes of all people living in the area, then this article provides it. This is one of the most honest and hopeful pieces I have read on the subject, and it helped me deal with the flood of emotions I’ve been experiencing since watching this all go down on October 17th.

By the way? What the heck is fracking? Here is a video that provides a simple, clear description of the process of fracking, summarising the pros and cons: “CNN Explains: Fracking“.

Recently, a claim was made by He Who Shall Not Be Named (because the guy literally gets paid to troll, and every little mention puts more money in his bloated pocket) that the people of Elsipogtog are basically puppets of foreign environmental groups. The article “Fracking Indigenous Country” (under the donation appeal) is a very long, but detailed rebuttal of any such claims. If you were at all wondering about whether this could be true, this article does an amazing job of completely demolishing these fantasies.

Rex Murphy really put his foot in it as well. Here are two very good responses to his patronising, racist article: “Rex Murphy and the Frames of Settler Colonial War” by Corey Snelgrove, and “Dear Rex: Colonialism exists, and you’re it” by Nick Montgomery.

Jian Ghomeshi put out an audio essay on the incident, summarizing the different opinions and posing some of the important questions the public needs to be asking. He also helps you learn how to pronounce Elsipogtog!

There have been a lot of conspiracy theories going around about provocateurs and US military involvement and so on. Here is an incredibly detailed article by Gord Hill about the tactics and equipment used during the raid which should help dispel some of the most outlandish rumours without downplaying the level of violence initiated by the RCMP: “Overview of RCMP deployment against Mi’kmaq blockade, Oct 17, 2013.”

Another article by the same author questions the rumours about provocateurs setting fire to the RCMP vehicles: “Statement on Provocateurs, Informants, and the conflict in New Brunswick.” Snitch-jacketing, or labeling people as provocateurs or agents of the state is an incredibly divisive and dangerous practice and whether the rumours are spread by law enforcement or our own communities, we have to be careful.

While this next article is not about Elsipogtog, it is nonetheless a very important read. “An open letter to peaceful protestors” debunks a lot of the myths about way peaceful protest was used during the Civil Rights Movement, and clarifies the difference between peaceful, and legal. The need to be organised rather than simply reactive, is highlighted and explained. Every person wanting to be involved in any sort of protest, solidarity action or larger movement, needs to read this article and really think about what it is saying.

To wrap up, I want to thank the artists who have so quickly responded with their support of the movement.

âpihtawikosisân, Chelsea Vowel is a 34 year old Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She is the mother of two energetic girls and holds a BEd and an LLB from the University of Alberta. She moved to Montreal two and a half years ago, fell in love with Roller Derby and decided to stay permanently. Her passions are the Cree language, strapping on roller skates and smashing into other women, and attacking the shroud of ignorance surrounding indigenous issues in Canada. She blogs at apihtawikosisan.com

Rabble: Frackas in Elsipogtog

SOURCE: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/christophermajka/2013/10/frackas-elsipogtog

Christopher Majka, October 19, 2013

Since the violent confrontations between RCMP and protestors at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick on October 17, 2013, there has been an explosion of concern across Canada. Many solidarity rallies have been held across the country (including one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that I attended on October 18, pictured in the photographs accompanying this article) and almost 23,000 people have already signed a petition calling on the RCMP to refrain from using violence against these peaceful protests by First Nations peoples and their supporters.

What’s at Issue?

First and foremost, fracking. This is a mining technique for extracting oil or natural gas from underground deposits. Typically clusters of holes are bored, first vertically then horizontally. Water mixed with chemical additives and sand is pumped at extremely high pressures into sections of these drill holes in order to hydraulically fracture (a.k.a., “frack”) the rock formations, thereby releasing hydrocarbons like methane (i.e., natural gas) or crude oil.

What’s the Problem?

There are two fundamental areas of concern.

1. Groundwater contamination

Elsipogtog Solidarity RallyAn enormous number (750+) chemicals have been used as additives in the slurry that is injected into boreholes. Typically 3-12 are used and they include, hydrochloric acid (for cleaning perforations), salt (to delay the breakdown of polymers), polyacrylamide (as a friction-reducer), ethylene glycol (to prevent scale deposits), borate salts (for maintaining fluid viscosity), sodium and potassium carbonates (to maintain crosslinks in polymers), glutaraldehyde (as a disinfectant), guar gum (to increase viscosity), citric acid (to reduce corrosion), and isopropanol (to increase fluid viscosity).

Although the fracking slurry is typically 90 per cent water, 9.5 per cent sand, and only 0.5 percent chemical additives, this soup of chemicals contains many substances of concern that one would not want in groundwater. Furthermore, when rock is hydraulically fractured — depending on its composition, depth, the bedding planes, and groundwater flows in the area — fractures and seams can open up that lead anywhere, and once opened, are virtually unstoppable.

Over time (this may take many months), these chemicals will work their way away to somewhere (Who knows where and with what consequences?), but what will not go away are the petroleum products (various oils and gases) released by the process of fracking — that, after all is the point. If channels through rock formations open up that lead to groundwater reservoirs, this hydrocarbon contamination can continue indefinitely. This is not only a problem in terms of drinking water from wells, springs, brooks, and rivers, but it also has the potential to affect aquatic ecosystems.

2. Methane leakage

Elsipogtog Solidarity RallyFracking releases gases, primarily methane, but also propane and contaminant gases such as hydrogen sulfide (which is very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive and needs to be flared-off to avoid dangers). Despite various technologies that are deployed, research done by investigators such as Cornell University environmental engineer, Anthony Ingraffea and his colleagues, has shown that some 10 per cent of fracked wells leak methane immediately (from defective cement seals and faulty steel linings), and some 20 per cent will eventually do so over time.  They not only leak at the wellhead, but can (and do) leak virtually anywhere in the surrounding area, coming up through fractured seams in the bedrock. Since methane is colourless and odorless, it may not be easy to detect.

Besides not wanting to breathe methane, this leakage is a serious concern because methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. Its Global Warming Potential (GWP) is calculated (most recently by the IPCC 2013 report) to be some 86 times that of carbon dioxide based on a 20-year atmospheric residency. This means that methane, as a Greenhouse Gas (GWG) in the atmosphere, traps heat 86 times as efficiently as carbon dioxide over a 20 year time period. Given that concerns with respect to climate change are climbing to critical levels, we have to be very mindful of the environmental impacts of processes like fracking that will inevitably leak methane into the atmosphere, essentially indefinitely.

Add to this concerns about radioactivity associated with fracking (flowbacks from some fracked gas wells have been found to contain high levels of radium) and seismic activity (i.e., tremors) induced by hydraulic fracturing, and it is clear that there are well-founded environmental concerns related to this practice. This is why many communities view plans to undertake fracking with deep suspicion.

Can it be done safely?

Elsipogtog Solidarity RallyWell … maybe. There are an enormous number of different parameters having to do with the geology of the deposits, their depth, what hydrocarbons they contain, the hydrology of the region, how the fracking is being conducted, what chemicals are being used, the proximity to aquifers and settlements, how the well-casing are made, etc. There are some situations where potential risks are greater, others where they are less; some situations where potential benefits are greater, others where they are less.

What is essential is that a clear and detailed assessment of risks and benefits needs to be undertaken before any such project proceeds, and — critically — who will bear the potential risks and reap the benefits. Scenarios in which the risks are assumed by the environment (as a dumping-ground for the mistakes of humanity) and the communities of people who live in the area and depend upon the integrity of that environment, while the benefits are primarily accrued by distant corporations (that are solely concerned with shareholder profits and executive bonuses) should be assessed very critically.

The inescapable corollary is that the adjudication of such proposals is an environmental, social, and political matter. It should not under any circumstances be downloaded onto police authorities. To do so is an abuse of process. The hydrocarbons trapped in shales have been there for tens if not hundreds of millions of years. They will not go away. There is no need to rush an ethically corrupt process (see more below).

Should it be done?

 at left, Sherry Pictou, former Chief of the Bear River First NationAye, there’s the rub. While it’s unquestionably the case that natural gas (which is what is at issue in Elsipogtog) burns more cleanly and with fewer carbon-dioxide emissions that other hydrocarbons such as coal or oil, it is still a fossil fuel and burning it (or letting it escape) emits greenhouse gases (GHGs), which on a daily bassis are bringing our planet closer to what many climatologists fear may be runaway global warming, the consequences of which could end civilization as we know it, something I would think should be of non-insignificant concern … (See Loaded dice in the climate change casino, In the valley of the shadow of peak oil, Acid bath: Evil twin of climate change, and Pestilence, famine, and climate change: Horseman of the Apocalypse).

We simply have to stop burning fossil fuels. While methane is cleaner than coal or tar sands, it is still emits GHGs. If extracting more natural gas would displace the burning of dirtier fuels, a case could be made for their exploitation. However, this seldom if ever happens. More extraction of fossil fuels almost invariably result sin more consumption of fossil fuels — and the cheaper they are, the more wastefully they are squandered.

Moreover, the more we as a society invest in fossil fuel technologies and infrastructure [i.e., pipelines, LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals, fracking pads, etc.] the more we economically commit to these investments, and the less we correspondingly have to invest in critical renewable energy resources (i.e., wind, water, wave, solar, tidal, geothermal, etc.). It is impossible to have it both ways; we don’t have infinite financial resources, and the world’s atmosphere and oceans are not infinite reservoirs into which we can indefinitely pour our wastes.  Climate change — an accumulation of the last several centuries of industrial society’s sins — is coming home to roost with virulent speed. We can’t continue to stick our head in the sands (tar or otherwise) — we simply have to stop burning fossil fuels.

Back to Elsipogtog

Elsipogtog Solidarity RallyHaving grown up in New Brunswick, this is an area I’m quite familiar with. The native community of Elsipogtog and the many surrounding Acadian towns of Rexton, Richibucto, Sainte-Anne de Kent, Saint-Louis de Kent, and many others, are located on the spectacular Gulf of St. Lawrence – Northumberland Strait coast of New Brunswick, a skipping stone’s throw away from Kouchibouguac National Park, itself a constellation of sand bars, barrier beaches, lagoons, and estuaries which is a scenic, natural, and wildlife gem of New Brunswick. The people of these communities are understandably attached to, and care for, the land, rivers, and ocean where they grew up, live, and make their livelihoods. They are understandably concerned by proposals by SWN Resources Canada (a subsidiary of a Houston, Texas based corporation) to frack for natural gas in their communities.

In the tense standoff at Elsipogtog, what we are seeing is how aboriginal communities are once again on the literal and figurative front line of resisting an exploitative model of resource development that disenfranchises the rights of people and is accelerating the destruction of the planet. It is native people — who have repeatedly been run over by the vehicles of corporate greed — who are standing up once again for the sake of their own communities, for the well being of all Canadians, and to preserve the sacred vitality and integrity of the environment that nourishes us all.

Elsipogtog Solidarity RallyThey are expressing well-founded environmental and political concerns and are asking pointed questions about the models of resource development and extraction, and the corporate myopia and greed that drives them. These abuses have brought us to the global environmental, social, and economic mess that we find ourselves in today. They are unfazed about asking spiritual questions about the sanctity of the earth and whether this is any way to treat her. As a society, we have to listen to these concerns — calmly and respectfully. There is no need to rush. It is inexcusable to send in the police, creating pointlessly tense situations that can readily escalate into conflict and violence. The New Brunswick government needs to reciprocate the invitation from native people to engage in an environmental, social, and political dialogue and not try to download the issues of this dispute onto police authorities.

An encouraging aspect of these current anti-fracking demonstrations and those of Idle No More (see No less than Idle No More) that I have attended, is the degree to which they have drawn people of every age, gender, and ethnicity, and how welcoming First Nations communities have been of the involvement of their fellow Canadians. Native people have been subject to centuries of genocide, persecution, or sometimes indifference, by the representatives of the European nations that came and colonized their land. They have more than ample reasons to feel hostile and suspicious — instead they are welcoming and generous.

In the past few years I’ve witnessed a sea-change, from a time when aboriginal people and their societies and concerns were seen as peripheral to ‘Canadian’ values and interests. Now I am witnessing a growing awareness and understanding that native people are at the forefront of what we need to do and embrace as a society. If we are to survive as a civilization, we need to understand that humanity is intimately and inextricably based on our relationship to the natural world. If we abuse it, we abuse ourselves. If we threaten its well being, we jeopardize our own future. If we ignore it, we hide from our own destiny. If we debase it, we harm our own sanctity. These are the lessons emerging from Elsipogtog and Idle No More. These are lessons that we urgently need to learn.

Christopher Majka is a biologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and arts advocate. He conducts research on the ecology and biodiversity of beetles. He is a research associate of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS and a member of the Project Democracy team.