SWN Resources Canada says protesters are impeding its exploration activities
A request by SWN Resources Canada to extend a court injunction that prevents anyone from impeding its exploration activities in New Brunswick has been denied by a judge.
Justice George Rideout issued a ruling Monday afternoon after hearing arguments in the Court of Queen's Bench on Friday. Rideout did not state his reason in court, but said he would issue a written decision.
In the minutes leading up to the ruling, shale gas opponents, many from Elsipogtog First Nation, were drumming and singing in the courtroom and hallway.
The court building was also crowded with supporters of protesters arrested on Thursday during a confrontation between RCMP and shale gas opponents in Rexton, N.B.
Six of those arrested were held in jail through the weekend out of concern they would flee the area, or be involved in a revival of the protest.
They were scheduled to have bail hearings before provincial court Judge Denis Lordon on Monday, however, those hearings were delayed at the request of defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux.
On Thursday, 40 protesters were arrested in Rexton after RCMP moved in on the encampment the protesters had established near Route 134 on Sept. 30.
The original injunction ordering that SWN Resources be allowed to carry on its exploration was issued on Oct. 3. But no action was taken by RCMP to enforce the court order as negotiations were taking place between representatives of the provincial government, Elsipogtog, and the coalition of native and non-native protesters.
An extention to the injunction was authorized on Oct. 10, with an expiry date of Oct. 21.
The court order included requirements to remove barricades on Route 134 and to allow SWN access to the shale gas exploration vehicles and equipment it had located in a compound off Route 134. SWN Resources was able to remove its vehicles and equipment Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Assembly of First Nations' Chiefs in New Brunswick is calling for the provincial government to suspend shale gas exploration permits issued to energy companies until a peaceful solution to the dispute can be negotiated.
Assembly co-chair George Ginnish says such a step would be part of the "cooling off period" agreed to last week between Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock and Premier David Alward in the wake of Thursday's violent protest confrontation in Rexton.
"We have been saying that this process has been rushed from Day 1," said Ginnish, chief of Eel Ground First Nation. "There is concern in many areas, not just the First Nations.
"We have a cooling off period and we think part of that cooling off period needs to involve getting back to the table and looking at the concerns we have had from the start."
Up until now, the Assembly of New Brunswick Chiefs has maintained a more neutral position in the shale gas debate.
Speaking at a news conference in Elsipogtog on Monday, Sock thanked the Assembly for the new-found support and encouraged people to peacefully press for a halt to exploration.
"We are peaceful people and what we want is to protect the water for all of us," said Sock. "I encourage everyone who cares about the land to keep making your voices heard in a safe, loving and yet loud voice, if need be."
SWN Resources Canada has been exploring for potential shale gas development sites under a permit issued by the province. But beginning Sept. 30, a coalition of native and non-native protesters blockaded the company's seismic exploration trucks in a compound used by the company off Route 134. SWN Resources had earlier told a Court of Queen's Bench hearing that the blockade of equipment was costing it $60,000 a day.
The protesters are concerned about any potential impact of shale gas extraction on the groundwater supply. The gas is accessed through hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into the earth under high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas held within the shale that is otherwise inaccessible.
Ginnish says it's time for the provincial government to consult with the aboriginal community about shale gas development.
"We've been telling the government of New Brunswick the consultation process hasn't been working for three years," said Ginnish.
"We need time and information to understand how the industry will affect our rights," he said.
"Our people are unconvinced the industry is actually safe."