Protesters make a stand at shale gas meeting

6/24/2011

About 150 people protested against hydraulic fracturing in front of the Fredericton hotel where the provincial government held a shale gas stakeholder summit Thursday morning.The crowd held up signs that said "No Fracking Way," referring to the nickname for hydraulic fracturing and a swear word from a popular sci-fi TV show.

Another sign showed an angry water drop holding a red stop sign that read "No Shale Gas."

Vicki Oland of Durham Bridge was one of the protesters. She said she was pleased by the number of people who turned out for the protest on a Thursday morning.

"I'm a citizen concerned about fracking, and I am also concerned about the seismic testing they are going to do for fracking," she said.

Oland said her main concern around the development of shale gas and hydraulic fracturing is the safety of drinking water.

She said at a meeting in Taymouth a couple of weeks ago, a government official said hydraulic fracturing was too dangerous to allow near a municipal water supply source.

"I want to know what the difference is," said Oland.

"If it's too dangerous for municipal water supply areas, why is it safe for rural water supply areas?

"I think it is out and out discrimination."

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals thousand of metres down a well to create tiny cracks in shale rock to release natural gas.

The well is cased in steel or concrete where it penetrates the water table, which normally is located within a few hundred metres of the surface.

She also said the government consultation process was disgraceful because community groups weren't invited to attend the summit.

"The people on the working group aren't able to come to (public) meetings," said Oland.

"They haven't done the research.

"They haven't looked into the human health aspects of which there are many and yet they say they're going to allow fracking."

She said the New Brunswick government should talk to jurisdictions that have banned hydraulic fracturing rather than wasting money by trying to reinvent the wheel.

"Why can't we go to Quebec and England, which have banned fracking, and ask them what have you found and why have you banned it," Oland said.

Jim Emberger of Taymouth also attended the protest and said the economic benefit of shale gas development is being overstated.

He said lots of studies have shown the economic model isn't sustainable.

"Industry always does this to try and split the community," said Emberger.

"Once they drill a well, they move on to the next well."

"Once they are drilled and in the ground, they are all automated."

He also said the wells deplete quickly and unlike a regular oil well or gas well or mine, the industry has to keep drilling new wells.

"You're going to get half or two-thirds of central New Brunswick that basically from the sky will look like an industrial park," said Emberger.

"When that's all done, if they go bankrupt or they just get all the gas and leave, that land is destroyed for good.

"This is such a short-sighted adventure."

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup and Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney came out of the meeting to talk to the protesters and were quickly surrounded by dozens of people shouting "No means no" and "Listen to the people."

Emotions were running high. One man shouted "We're all going to die" and a woman screamed "Stop raping our Mother Earth for money."

The two ministers stayed outside for about 20 minutes before returning to the meeting.

Oland was one of the people who talked to the ministers. She said it was good they came out, but they didn't have any answers.

"When I asked them why they think they can protect the province from fracking when they ... can't protect rural wells from road construction, they weren't able to give me an answer," she said.

She said she asked Blaney to delay hydraulic fracturing until all the research that has been done can be collected and studied.

"She said, 'We don't need to,' " said Oland.

"My response was 'Oh, so the government knows everything there is to know about science and geology and hydrology?' "

She said when she tried to press Northrup for answers, he just walked away. She said nothing the ministers said changed her mind or put her concerns at rest.

"It just made me mad," said Oland.

Northrup said meeting with protesters is an important part of the government's communications strategy.

"We wanted to make sure we went out and talked to those people out there," he said.

"They have a strong point and we went out and listened to them and we'll keep on listening to them.

"There is a lot of emotion out there, for sure, but I'm not going to back away from anybody."

(The Daily Gleaner)