You wouldn’t know it from reading Canada’s ‘national media’, but the confrontation over shale gas exploration in New Brunswick is continuing, watched over by a hefty police presence. A clash between police and aboriginal protesters opposed to the exploration made the news in October when the demonstrators set police cruisers alight.
Pictures of anything burning are great for media ratings.
But this issue deserves more than fleeting attention. Five people were arrested at the site Friday for trying to stop the work, by Houston-based SWN Resources Canada. SWN obtained an injunction against the demonstrators on Nov. 22 and is seeking an extension next Monday, according to APTN news.
Earlier in the week a local journalist was arrested, for the third time, while covering the protests.
What’s happening at Elsipogtog deserves more attention from the mainstream media not only because of these arrests but because shale gas exploitation is increasing in North America, but remains controversial. The province of Quebec and New York State, for instance, have banned the process because it involves ‘fracking’ – injecting high-pressure water into the ground to shatter rock. Opponents say this contaminates drinking water and causes other environmental problems, including increased greenhouse gas emissions and earthquakes.
In New Brunswick this is not just a First Nations issue. The opposition Liberal Party have long called for a halt to exploratory drilling until more evidence on the impacts of fracking is available. A local government voted 14-1 for a moratorium. Other jurisdictions, notably BC and Alberta in Canada, allow fracking.
Events at Elsipotog are also significant because they highlight the clash between resource exploration and aboriginal rights. As this comprehensive article by CBC Online points out, even the federal government acknowledges that although the Mi’kmaq people in what is now New Brunswick did sign treaties, “they did not surrender rights to lands or resources”.
Those who favour developing shale gas fields argue that it’s crazy for the economically disadvantaged aboriginal population of a have-not province to look the shale gas gift horse in the mouth. That argument assumes that the horse still has its teeth, that exploiting shale gas will produce more positive than negative results. And that is far from a sure thing. As the only people in the province who appear willing to exercise the option of saying no, the Elsipotog must be heard.
It’s time for the New Brunswick government to start over again. This time, it must invite local First Nations to the table to discuss shale gas from Day 1.