Canadian Judge Lifts Injunction On Embattled Fracking Blockade
On Monday, a judge ordered a victory for the Mi’kmaq First Nations activists and their supporters when it denied a request by Texas-based Southwestern Energy Company (SWN) to extend an injunction against protesters who had successfully created a blockade, separating the company from its exploratory fracking equipment.
The injunction has created a battle between the New Brunswick coalition of First Nations activists and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, resulting in more than 40 arrests and reports of armed RCMP snipers unloading rounds of rubber bullets on protesters.
While Monday was a time for celebration for those who have stood through attacks by the RCMP, it doesn’t create a clear solution moving forward.
A statement sent to Mint Press News by SWN indicates the company plans to continue its exploration efforts in the New Brunswick region, which contains a key shale formation for fracking companies looking to get their piece of the new industry.
“We respect the right of all citizens to voice their beliefs and opinions, when conducted in a safe and lawful manner,” the statement reads. “Southwestern Energy has been and will continue to work closely with local authorities and community leaders to conduct our operations safely and responsibly, and in full compliance with the laws of the country and Province.”
Protests in Moncton, New Brunswick began in June, when Mi’kmaq First Nations activists began hearing the rumblings of new shale exploration, a warning sign that fracking was right around the corner.
Yet it wasn’t until recently that the situation escalated to an all-out battle.
On Oct. 17, the peaceful protests took a new turn, as more the RCMP officers attempted to forcefully end the block created by anti-fracking advocates. While the blockade had previously allowed for passing traffic to make its way through, the RCMP was now present in the area, seemingly with the purpose of ensuring traffic ran smoothly.
Yet when SWN got involved, things took a dramatic turn. An injunction filed on behalf of SWN against the First Nations protesters extended until Oct. 21. The injunction called for the blockade, which blocked SWN from accessing its compound that housed exploratory equipment, to be removed.
According to Halifax Media Co-Op editor Miles Howe, who was present at the protests, activists had expected a public hearing on Oct. 18 regarding the injunction, at which point they could make their case.
Yet on Oct. 17, Howe witnessed the premature take-down of the blockade, with armed RCMP officers storming the encampment, shooting rubber bullets and arresting more than 40 activists.
“OK. Got arrested in a violent takedown this morning about 9 a.m.,” Howe wrote in a Facebook post. “RCMP using gunboat diplomacy surrounded encampment with all guns drawn. K9 units, pistols and rifles pointed. At one point RCMP just rushed the scene and grabbed everybody. Two Warriors got shot with rubber shotgun shells.”
Warriors are leaders of the First Nations group dedicated to protecting those involved in the advocacy movement. As one activist told The Real News, it’s for that reason that they’re at the front of the line.
Describing the scene
In a story published in Halifax Media Co-Op, Howe gives a detailed description of what he saw when he awoke the morning of Oct. 17. After running to the scene and witnessing roughly 20 police officers crouched in ditches, he looked up to see a front of officers approaching the encampment.
“In the far field, creeping towards the Warrior encampment — which was comprised of one trailer and about ten tents — were at least 35 more police officers. Many of these wore tactical blue and had pistols drawn. At least three officers were wearing full camouflage and had sniper rifles pointed at the amassing group. The Warriors, for their part, numbered about 15,” Howe wrote. “Through a police loudspeaker towards the highway 11 off-ramp, an officer began reading the injunction against the blocking of SWN’s seismic equipment. This was all before dawn.”
Video footage of the morning officer raid, captured by subMedia.tv, showed armed officers entering the blockaded area at around 7 a.m., eliciting screams from female protesters. On camera, one RCMP officer orders the camera to be turned off.
From afar, subMedia.tv caught one protester on camera addressing an officer.
“One day I’m going to tell my kids I stood up for their water,” he told the officer. “I stood up for your guys’ kids’ water, too … All of your guys’ kids.”
It was at this point that molotov cocktails were thrown in the direction of the police. Howe could not confirm who threw the cocktails, which lit one lawn chair on fire. According to subMedia.tv, four RCMP vehicles were set on fire. Hundreds of RCMP officers then gathered in a united front, with reports of a dozen snipers joining the law enforcement team.
“Two camouflaged officers then pumped three rounds of rubber bullet shotgun blasts into the woods,” Howe wrote.
Footage of the RCMP at the scene of the encampment was also captured by citizen journalists and published at The Real News.
Following the initial confrontation, Warrior Chief Seven Bernard was approached by two officers, who presented him with the SWN injunction. All the while, police officers surrounding the scene had their guns drawn and were pointing them at Bernard, according to Howe.
It was then that events began to escalate once again, resulting in arrests and shots of rubber bullets. Howe had his camera taken away by an officer, who identified him as being “one of them.”
After being held at the law enforcement center with those involved in the blockade, Howe was told he would be charged with obstruction of justice. The charges then changed to mischief before being dropped altogether.
The injunction in question specifically called for activists to vacate Highway 134, which SWN is using to transport equipment to the exploration site. As noted by Howe, the arrests that took place occurred on a public dirt road, not on Highway 134.
Solidarity movements have since cropped up throughout Canada and the U.S., not only among Native American and First Nations groups, but among those who are concerned about the sprawling impacts of fracking.
New Brunswick’s shale formation
At the heart of the matter are oil and gas.
The shale formation discovered in New Brunswick is vast, with estimates indicating one-seventh of New Brunswick has been leased for oil and gas exploration. According to Geoscience News and Information, New Brunswick is considered a hotspot for fracking, largely because of the potential for extraction.
“The oil shales of the New Brunswick Albert Formation, lamosites of Mississippian age, have the greatest potential for development,” the site states. “The Alberta oil shale averages 100 l/t of shale oil and has potential for recovery of oil and may also be used for co-combustion with coal for electric power generation.”
SWN has a permit through the provincial government to conduct shale exploratory missions. The blockade is estimated to have cost the company upward of $60,000 a day, according to a CBC report.
In a statement sent to Mint Press News, SWN claims it was — and is — conducting its exploratory measures in accordance with New Brunswick law.
“At Southwestern Energy, our mission is to produce and provide energy for our world. In New Brunswick, Canada, we are in the early stages of an exploration program to determine the viability of future energy development,” it stated. “These operations are being conducted in accordance with our license to explore granted by the Province and with all local laws and regulations.”
The road isn’t closed for SWN moving forward, however. As of Monday, First Nations leaders were calling for a cooldown period, during which time they could create a consultation that would allow the government to hear their concerns.
“We’ve been telling the government of New Brunswick the consultation process hasn’t been working for three years,” said George Ginnish, co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick, according to the CBC. “We need time and information to understand how the industry will affect our rights. Our people are unconvinced the industry is actually safe.”
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