SWN returning to New Brunswick as Mi’kmaq plan renewed resistance

People round dance around burning tires on the highway during demonstration last fall against SWN Resources Canada’s shale gas exploration work. Photo: APTN/File
People round dance around burning tires on the highway during demonstration last fall against SWN Resources Canada’s shale gas exploration work. Photo: APTN/File


By Jorge Barrera, April 15, 2014. Source: APTN News

Another round of battles loom between the Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick and a Houston-headquartered energy firm exploring for shale gas deposits in the province.

SWN Resources Canada has submitted two proposals under the province’s environmental impact assessment process to drill exploratory wells in separate parts of New Brunswick. The projects were registered with the provincial environment department on Monday, according to an official.

The company plans to drill one well in Chipman, which is in central New Brunswick, and a second well near Richibucto, which is in an area that saw intense demonstrations against shale gas exploration last autumn.

The Mi’kmaq community of Elsipogtog is only about 17 kilometres west of Richibucto and its War Chief John Levi said SWN should again expect resistance.

“We are just getting ready to go back out there and stop them. It’s going to be rough,” said Levi. “It ain’t no game. This is our livelihood that is at stake. We are not going to allow it. It’s like they are trying to kill us slowly.”

SWN Resources Canada, which is owned by Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company, could not be reached for comment.

The Mi’kmaq, in an alliance with Acadians and residents of Anglophone communities in the region, led months-long protests against SWN Resources Canada. The Mi’kmaq feared the discovery of shale gas would lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The company ended its shale gas seismic exploration work this past December amid burning tires and highway clashes between demonstrators and the RCMP.

The RCMP also launched a heavily armed raid of an anti-fracking camp anchored by the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society last Oct. 17. The camp was blocking a compound holding SWN’s exploration vehicles. The raid triggered day-long clashes and the burning of six RCMP vehicles. Police arrested about 40 people that day.

The company has applied to have its exploration wells approved under the province’s phased EIA process which allows some components of proposed projects to unfold amid the environmental review. The environment department is currently putting together a technical committee to review SWN’s proposed wells, according to a provincial official with knowledge of the file.

SWN wants to build two well pads for vertical drilling that will range in depths between 1,000 and 4,000 metres. The company wants to determine the geology of the area by examining rock samples coming out of the holes, according to the provincial official who has read the company’s proposal.

The environmental assessment will also include input from the public.


Elsipogtog regroups as chief ponders new anti-fracking leadership

By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION–The Mi’kmaq-led opposition to shale gas exploration in New Brunswick continued to regroup Monday, moving into a new phase which could also bring new leadership to the ongoing struggle.

The movement was buoyed Monday afternoon after a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled against a Houston-based energy company that was seeking an indefinite injunction against an encampment along Route 134 in Rexton, NB.

The judge said the injunction was no longer needed because trucks belonging to SWN Resources Canada had been freed following an RCMP raid on the encampment Thursday.

The encampment had been blocking the company’s trucks in a compound. The RCMP acted last Thursday, one day before an interim injunction was set to expire, sweeping onto the site with dogs and camouflaged tactical units, arresting 40 people and seizing three rifles, ammunition and crude explosive devices.

At a press conference Monday morning, Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock said he is planning on appointing new leadership for the band’s role in the shale gas exploration opposition. Elsipogotog has been at the heart of the protest movement which has been raging since the summer.

“I have three people in mind right now, but we have yet to sit down and discuss,” said Sock. “I do have a spiritual advisor that I turn to and he will be part of the process.”

While Sock wouldn’t give details about the “logistics” of the next phase, it has emerged that there are discussions underway to move the encampment from its current location on Route 134 to a previous base within Elsipogtog’s territory used this past summer which sits just off Hwy 116.

“We are planning on going to the 116 where the sacred fire was before and do our healing there and get ready for the next round,” said Elsipogtog’s War Chief John Levi.

Levi is not connected to the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society.

Levi said there is no longer any point to the Route 134 encampment after the raid freed the exploration trucks it was blocking.

“There is no sense to being on the side of the road, it’s only a danger for our people,” said Levi.

Levi was in talks with the RCMP to remove the burned-out remains of several RCMP vehicles that were torched in the aftermath of Thursday’s raid. He wanted the RCMP to ground their surveillance plane, which had been circling the community, before releasing the vehicles.

On Sunday night, Sock and three friends removed the charred remains using three shovels, a half-ton truck and a local towing company. Sock said an RCMP sergeant was also involved in the removal.

“I took it on my own personally, just being a good neighbour to the people of Rexton, NB.,” said Sock.

The RCMP plane, which had been circling the area relentlessly, returned Monday.

The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society was essentially in charge of the camp at the time of the raid. It remained unclear what role the society will play once new leadership is appointed.

Mi’kmaq Warrior War Chief “Seven,” who was arrested during the raid but has since been freed, said he had no comment and would wait to hear more information.

The Warrior Society has widespread support within Elsipogtog. Several of their key players remained in jail awaiting bail hearings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some at the site said they do not want to move the encampment from Route 134.

Louis Jerome, from Gesgapegiag First Nation in Quebec, said the current encampment is better strategically because it sits near Hwy 11 which passes over Route 134. The encampment is about 15 kilometres northeast of Elsipogtog and 80 km north of Moncton.

Over 100 Mi’kmaq and supporters blocked Hwy 11 for about an hour Saturday. Hwy 11 is one of the main highways in the province, running from Moncton north to Bathurst.

“We are going to stay here,” said Jerome. “This is a place where we can battle…We can see traffic, what is going through.”

Jerome said the plan is to move the encampment a few metres east from the current site to a field on an adjacent road where a teepee currently sits.

Route 134 was again reduced to one lane by the Mi’kmaq Monday evening.

Others said it didn’t matter where the camp was, as long as people were unified. Hubert Francis, from Elsipogtog, said confusion abounded following the raid.

“I am hearing three or four different stories, from three or four different sources,” said Francis. “From day one there has been a lot of miscommunication…We really don’t have a direction on where we are going with this.”

While Sock and the grassroots continue to sort out next steps on the ground, the Elsipogtog chief also has to prepare to continue talks with the provincial government.

“I don’t think this is any longer between Elsipogtog and SWN. This is between Elsipogtog and the province,” said Sock. “That is where the battle is.”

Sock met with New Brunswick Premier David Alward Friday and, while the two had been making progress before the raid, Thursday’s events changed the landscape.

“When you have two opposing ideas, you just butt heads,” said Sock. “Right now we just don’t see eye to eye.”

Sock said Elsipogtog doesn’t want shale gas exploration while the province sees it as a “money maker.” The chief said the Mi’kmaq see no benefit to the province developing shale gas deposits through fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

“We don’t want to be the ones at the end of the day, 50 or 60 years down the road, which is the average life span of a shale gas well, to be stuck with thousands of wells,” said Sock. “The province will have made their money and we are stuck with the refuse, the garbage.”

Poland’s shale gas bubble ‘bursting’

Villagers from Zurawlow protesting in Warsaw. The banner says “Shale gas = the death of farming”. Photo: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.
Villagers from Zurawlow protesting in Warsaw. The banner says “Shale gas = the death of farming”. Photo: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

By Claudia Ciobanu, Inter Press Service

Since Jun. 3, inhabitants of the village Zurawlow in Grabowiec district in southeastern Poland have been occupying a field in their locality where the U.S. company Chevron plans to drill for shale gas. The farmers’ resistance is just the latest blow to shale gas proponents in the country.

Chevron, one of the world’s top five publicly owned oil and gas companies (the so-called “Big Oil”), owns four out of the 108 concessions for exploration for unconventional gas currently awarded by Poland (data from Jul. 1, 2013).

Over the past years, Poland has been perceived as one of Europe’s most promising locations for shale exploration. The U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration estimated two years ago that the country holds 187 trillion cubic feet shale gas resources, 44 trillion of which are in the Lubin Basin where Zurawlow lies. This year, the body revised those estimates downwards, to 148 trillion cubic feet for the country and nine trillion for the Lubin region, after applying tighter methodology.

Given Poland’s annual gas consumption (currently over 600 billion cubic feet annually), the original EIA estimate has been translated to mean that shale gas resources would be enough to meet the country’s needs for 300 years, a figure often quoted by media and politicians.

The Polish centre-right government headed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been depicting shale gas as a way to both reduce Poland’s dependency on Russian gas imports (two-thirds of Polish gas demand is covered from Russian imports) and to make a transition away from dirty coal, which at the moment covers 60 percent of energy demand in the country.

Past the political rhetoric, facts on the ground are less rosy. Despite around 40 wells being drilled in the country since 2010 (including by Halliburton contracted by Polish state company PGNiG S.A.), no company has to date announced that it can extract gas for commercial purposes.

Over the past year, ExxonMobil and two other companies, Marathon Oil and Talisman, announced they would withdraw from Poland, doubting the gains they could make. The government appears to be in damage control mode, telling international media that Exxon still holds on to one out of six concessions and that Marathon has not yet submitted official requests to pull out.

Tusk’s team is also working on legislative changes to make the companies’ lives easier: in addition to tax breaks until 2020, firms would have the possibility to turn exploration licences into production licences automatically as well as to increase the depth of drilling without extra permits.

Yet the shale gas lobby thinks changes do not go far enough. According to the Polish Exploration and Production Industry Organisation (OPPPW), clearer wording is needed to ensure those who explore can automatically exploit (without the fields being put up for tender if gas is discovered), longer exploration permits are necessary, and too big a role is envisaged for a state company which is planned by Poland to have a stake in all exploitations.

“OPPPW members all wish to progress their projects in Poland,” Marcin Zieba, the industry group’s executive director told IPS. “But, as demonstrated by ExxonMobil, Talisman and Marathon stopping their operations. they can change their minds. We have yet to see a project in Poland that has demonstrated commercial flow rates – so this activity remains high risk, with no guarantee of success.”

Meanwhile, local opposition to fracking (pumping water and chemicals into the underground to release gas from rocks) is posing unexpectedly strong obstacles.

In 2012 already, Chevron had to stop operations in Zurawlow because locals successfully argued in courts that the company’s operations at the time were breaching the EU Birds Directive.

The occupation this year started when the company renewed attempts to begin work, beginning with trying to fence off one area. Protesters say that Chevron is treating the concession like private property whileaccording to them “the concession was awarded for public purposes – searching for hydrocarbons – and activities in the area must be conducted with the knowledge and acceptance of society.”

In a controversy that might be telling of the murkiness of the Polish legislative framework, villagers argue that while Chevron has the concession, it has not received supplementary approvals from local authorities to do anything more than seismic testing in the region. Chevron retorts that they do have all necessary approvals.

In a response to protesters, the ministry of environment says the right to build (including wells) on the concession land must be further regulated by state authorities and does not derive automatically from the concession.

The legalistic battle, however, is just a facet of the fundamental conflict between villagers and Chevron: in the predominantly farming area of Zurawlow, people fear fracking will forever destroy their water and lands, endangering their livelihoods.

“If they go ahead with drilling thousands of metres underground, our water will be affected and there will be no more life in our fields,” villager Stefan Jablonski told IPS during a protest in Warsaw last week. “Not to mention that we might end up with no gas and no water too.”

Villagers complain that an assessment of environmental impacts for shale exploration has not been conducted for Zurawlow. According to Polish legislation, state authorities can decide on a case by case basis if such an assessment is required.

Asked to respond to the claims of the protesters by IPS during a press conference Jul. 15, Polish Minister of Environment Marcin Korolec said: “Shale gas constitutes an enormous opportunity for Poland. The majority of environmental issues are extremely emotional, as we see with the people of Zurawlow, but we have to keep our route and realise our policy.”

“Unfortunately, our ministry of environment is behaving like a representative of companies,” Agnieszka Grzybek from the Polish Green Party told IPS. “In the legislative pack discussed at the moment, there is a proposal that says that new NGOs cannot send comments and engage in the debate unless they have existed for more than a year. This would effectively exclude groups like the farmers from Zurawlow from having a say on shale gas.”