There’s a new gold rush: sand. The golden-brown stuff has become the latest, hottest commodity on the market — actually, that’s inaccurate. It’s Northern White sand that’s all the rage now, according to The Wall Street Journal, because it can withstand intense heat and pressure underground. Why is that important? Because what’s driving the white sand demand is fracking.
Which is why sand prices and stock values are going up and mining activities for sand are expanding, notably in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“Residents of those areas are less than happy — the hyperactive mining of sand has seen a massive public backlash about the truck traffic, dust, and breathing problems,” wrote Cassie Werber in the WSJ’s Energy Journal newsletter today.
It’s not just environmentally questionable practices like fracking that are contributing to the sand demand. Clean energy and tech enthusiasts are fueling the market as well. “Sand is a key ingredient in items from solar panels to smartphones,” Sider points out.
But the numbers for fracking are pretty staggering. Again from Sider:
Frackers are expected to use nearly 95 billion pounds of sand this year, up nearly 30 percent from 2013 and up 50 percent from forecasts made by energy-consulting firm PacWest Consulting Partners a year ago.
It can take four million pounds of sand to frack a single well, but several companies are experimenting with using more. Companies like Pioneer Natural Resources Inc., which recently received a ruling from the U.S. Commerce Department allowing it to export unrefined ultralight oil produced from shale formations, are finding that the output of wells is up to 30% higher when they’re blasted with more sand. About a fifth of onshore wells are now being fracked with extra sand, but the technique could expand to 80% of all shale wells, according to energy analysts at RBC Capital Markets.
The last time people went rushing for sand it was to cover our coasts for beach resorts — a regrettable decision in most coastal areas given it’s made them vulnerable to erosion, rising sea levels, and other climate change impacts. Hopefully, the goldrushers are thinking more long-term on these new prospects.
In a victory for fracking opponents, towns in New York today won the right to ban oil and gas production operations from their communities. The ruling may have widespread effects on the drilling industry as towns continue to file moratoriums on the environmentally harmful process.
The decision sets a precedent for environmental activists in New York as more than 170 of the state’s other municipalities wait for legal action to be taken on anti-fracking measures in their communities as well. Towns in Colorado, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania and Texas are also beginning to pursue oil and gas production bans, public interest law firm Earthjustice reports.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 that the communities of Dryden and Middlefield can use zoning laws to prohibit heavy industry within municipal borders. The decision rested in large part on preserving the quality of life and “small town character” of both towns, which are situated in rural areas of New York and have not been historically associated with the oil and gas industry.
Industrialization, particularly fracking, would “irreversibly overwhelm” the rural character of these communities, the court stated.
The seven-judge panel said that its ruling was not a statement on the safety of the controversial practice of fracking, but about the division of state and local government power.
“These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits,” Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote for the majority opinion.
“These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve. The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities,” she said.
Still, many activist groups see the decision as a victory for the environment.
“The decision by the Court of Appeals has settled the matter once and for all across New York State and has sent a firm message to the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg.
Dryden recently garnered the attention of the natural gas industry for its proximity to the Marcellus Shale, a methane-heavy formation that covers large areas of land in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Middlefield, while not in shale territory, is primarily an agricultural community that was recently evaluated as a potential natural gas resource.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Transportation Department issued an emergency order Wednesday requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the movement of large shipments of crude oil through their states and urged shippers not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds.
The emergency order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of crude oil — the equivalent of about 35 tank cars — from the booming Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada provide information on the trains’ expected movement, including frequency and county-by-county routes, to the states they traverse. The order also requires that railroads disclose the volume of oil being transported and how emergency responders can contact “at least one responsible party” at the railroad.
Much of the oil from the region is being shipped across the U.S. and Canada in trains of 100 cars or more that accident investigators have described as “moving pipelines.” The trains traverse small towns and big cities alike. Local and state officials, fire chiefs and other emergency responders have complained that they often have no information on the contents of the freight trains moving through communities and their schedules. Nor are they able to force railroads to provide that information, they say.
The department also issued a safety advisory urging shippers to use the most protective type of tank car in their fleets when shipping oil from the Bakken region. The order recommended that to the extent possible shippers not use older model tank cars known as DOT-111s. Accident investigators report the cars have ruptured or punctured, spilling their contents, even in accidents that occurred at speeds under 30 mph.
The tank cars are generally owned by or leased to oil companies that ship the crude, not the railroads.
The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a “higher body count” as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the moves at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, saying the department was moving as fast as possible on new safety regulations for crude oil shipments. He said the department sent a proposal last week to the White House that included new tank-car standards and regulations on train speeds, and the safety classification of oil based on its volatility. He said he anticipated final regulations before the end of the year.
Unlike the emergency order, the safety advisory on tank cars is voluntary, noted Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Pointing out that oil trains move through “every major city it in the Northwest … hitting every urban center in our state,” she pressed Foxx to move even faster on tougher tank-car standards that would have the force of law.
There have been nine oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since March of last year, many of them resulting in intense fires and sometimes the evacuation of nearby residents, according to the NTSB. The latest was last week, when a CSX train carrying Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending three tank cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke into the air. No one was injured, but the wreck prompted an evacuation of nearby buildings.
Concern about the safe transport of crude oil was heightened after a runaway oil train derailed and then exploded last July in the small town of Lac-Megantic in Canada, just across the border from Maine. More than 60 tank cars spilled more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings destroyed in resulting inferno.
U.S. crude oil production is forecast to reach 8.5 million barrels a day by the end of this year, up from 5 million barrels a day in 2008. The increase is overwhelmingly due to the Bakken fracking boom. Fracking involves the fracturing of rock with pressurized liquid to free oil and natural gas unreachable through conventional drilling.
Railroad and oil industry officials had no immediate comment on the government’s action.
WASHINGTON — The swarm of earthquakes went on for months in North Central Texas, rattling homes, with reports of broken water pipes and cracked walls and locals blaming the shudders on the hydraulic fracturing boom that’s led to skyrocketing oil and gas production around the nation.
Darlia Hobbs, who lives on Eagle Mountain Lake, about a dozen miles from Fort Worth, said that more than 30 quakes hit from November to January.
“We have had way too many earthquakes out here because of the fracking and disposal wells,” she said in an interview.
While the dispute over the cause remains, leading geophysicists are now saying Hobbs and other residents might be right to point the finger at oil and gas activities.
“It is certainly possible, and in large part that is based on what else we’ve seen in the Fort Worth basin in terms of the rise of earthquakes since 2008,” William Ellsworth, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, said in an interview Thursday.
Ellsworth said the Dallas-Fort Worth region previously had just a single known earthquake, in 1950.
Since 2008, he said, more than 70 have been big enough to feel. Those include earthquakes at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that scientists linked to a nearby injection well.
Ellsworth briefed his colleagues on his findings Thursday at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting in Anchorage.
Researchers also are investigating links between quakes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and elsewhere to oil and gas activities. USGS seismologist Art McGarr said it was clear that deep disposal of drilling waste was responsible for at least some of the quakes in the heartland.
“It is only a tiny fraction of the disposal wells that cause earthquakes large enough to be felt, and occasionally cause damage,” McGarr said. “But there are so many wells distributed throughout much of the U.S., they still add significantly to the total seismic hazard.”
While causes are under debate, it’s established that earthquakes have spiked along with America’s fracking boom. The USGS reports that an average of more than 100 earthquakes a year with a magnitude of 3.0 or more hit the central and eastern U.S. in the past four years.
That compares with an average rate of only 20 observed quakes a year in the decades from 1970 to 2000.
Regulators in Ohio found what they said was a probable connection between small quakes in the northeast corner of that state and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which high-pressure water and chemicals are pumped underground to break up shale rock and release the oil and natural gas inside.
But the USGS considers it very rare for fracking itself to cause earthquakes. Far more often the issue is quakes caused by the disposal of the wastewater into wells.
Fracking produces large amounts of wastewater, which companies often pump deep underground as an economical way to dispose of it. Injection raises the underground pressure and can effectively lubricate fault lines, weakening them and causing quakes, according to the USGS.
USGS seismologist Ellsworth said that near Fort Worth, two disposal wells were close enough to the earthquakes to be responsible. He said more research was needed.
Ellsworth and his colleagues, including seismologists from Southern Methodist University, in their presentation Thursday ruled out the idea that the falling level of a nearby lake might be contributing. But he said they couldn’t entirely reject the possibility of other natural causes — despite earthquakes being virtually unheard of in the region before 2008, which matches the start of the fracking boom.
Hobbs, of Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, said she’d lived in the area since 1967 and never even considered the possibility of earthquakes.
Hundreds of Indigenous Peoples from the state and throughout the country gathered with a crowd of over 4000 people at the State Capitol in Sacramento on March 15 to send a clear message to Governor Brown: ban fracking, an environmentally destructive oil extraction practice that pollutes groundwater, rivers and the oceans.
The large Tribal contingent included members of the Miwok, Maidu, Winnemem Wintu, Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Ohlone, Pit River, Cahto, Round Valley, Tule River, Pomo and Chumash Nations and other Tribes from throughout the state, as well as members of the Dakota, Lakota Sioux, indigenous communities, native organizations and activists in the Idle No More Movement and Klamath Justice Coalitions. Many Tribal representatives emphasized the direct connection between fracking and the Shasta Dam raise and the Governor’s peripheral tunnels plan, which will provide water for fracking.
“We should call the Governor ‘Westlands’ Brown,” quipped Chook Chook Hillman, a member of the Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Justice Coalition that has organized many direct action protests to remove the Klamath dams, halt the violation of tribal gathering rights under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas,” and to stop the Westlands Water District legal attempt to raid Trinity River water.
“Brown is setting aside all the environmental rules in order to ship water south,” said Hillman, who held a banner proclaiming, “Stop Fracking Around – Undam the Klamath,” with other members of Klamath Justice Coalition. “Fracking will take good water, put chemicals in it and then it will come out toxic forever. Fracking will affect all us – fracking is a terrible use of water, water that could be used for people and fish.”
The event, organized by the Californians Against Fracking, featured diverse speakers including environmental justice advocates, farmers, student activists and other groups opposed to fracking. Hundreds of organizations, ranging from grassroots groups to large NGOs, helped to organized the rally.
Chief Caleen Audrey Sisk, Tribal Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu, led the opening ceremony and prayer. She took aim at the Governor’s peripheral tunnels plan – the “Brown Water Plan,” as she calls it.
She emphasized, “Here at the Capitol a lot of Brown water planning is going on. This water is our medicine – it comes from the sacred places where the medicine comes from. We struggle to continue to take care of our waters – there is no other place we can go to practice our religion.”
Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, opens the rally with a ceremony and prayer. (Photo by Dan Bacher)
After the rally was over she led a group of Winnemem Wintu and their supporters down to the Sacramento River at Miller Park take the “Water Challenge” to defend waters, rivers and fish population. Around 20 people cautiously waded into and then swam in the muddy waters.
“When we accept the winter water challenge and go down to our rivers, springs, lakes and oceans to make a heartfelt commitment and challenge others to do the same it makes the waters happy,” she said. “All over California the water ways are waking up with good blessings! Now accept the challenge to take the message you got to the Capitol and tell the world…no fracking chance will your Brown Water Plan destroy our sacred waters.”
Warrior Woman, a Dakota Indian woman holding a sign saying, “Mother Earth Does Not Negotiate,” said, “We’re here to stop fracking and the rape of Mother Earth. Water is the life blood of Mother Earth. The governmental system can’t continue to oppress the people and Mother Earth any longer.”
Mike Duncan, Round Valley Reservation Tribe member, described fracking as “another broken treaty.”
“I’m here for tribal water waters and to stop the raising of Shasta Dam. It’s the future – it’s our responsibilities as tribal people to stop fracking. Fracking is another broken treaty as far as I am concerned,” he said.
Penny Opal Plant, an organizer of Idle No More, pointed out that the battle against fracking and other destructive methods of oil and gas extraction is a worldwide struggle, including Lakota resistance to the XL pipeline, the resistance of Canadian First Nations to fracking and battles of indigenous people against destructive resource extraction throughout Latin America.
“We are not Mother Earth’s failed experiment. We are her immune system. All of the our two legged relatives must stand up for Mother Earth,” she stated.
Penny Opal Plant of Idle No More explained how California fracking occurs in the context of indigenous struggles against fracking across the globe. (Photo by Dan Bacher)
She noted that the oil industry is planning ship dangerously explosive crude oil through Richmond, California – and vowed direct action to stop the trains.
“We will put our bodies on the line and we may have to sit in front of the those trains,” Plant said.
“What time is it?,” she shouted to the crowd. “It’s time to transition!”
In a press release before the rally, Corrina Gould, Elder, Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone, stated, “We are the ancestors of the future and it is our responsibility to be the care takers of the earth, as was given to us in our original teachings by our ancestors. We must not allow the continuous devastation and degradation of our Mother, Earth. We must be the voices for our children and our grandchildren. Fracking must stop by any means necessary.”
“Fracking” is a method of oil and gas production that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth to extract oil and gas but it can also pollute local air, water, and endanger the lives of people and wildlife, according to Corine Fairbanks, director of American Indian Movement Southern California Chapter.
Fracking exposes people to radioactivity and numerous toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, methanol, and benzene. The chemicals used in fracking have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer.
“Fracking is also known to trigger seismic activity and earthquakes,” said Fairbanks. “Anti-Fracking efforts have been led by California Native Nations throughout the state and on February 28th, 2014 the Los Angeles City Council passed a ban on fracking within its jurisdiction. This makes Los Angeles the first oil-producing city in California to call a halt to the practice.”
Fracking has been documented in 10 California counties — Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter, Kings and Ventura. Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel. Fracking may have been used elsewhere in California, since state officials have monitored neither or tracked the practice until recently, according to Fairbanks.
Fairbanks pointed out that Indian people have been fighting against hydraulic fracking and toxic dumping for many years.
“Toxic dumping and hydraulic fracking like efforts have been happening on and around Reservations for decades, causing a multitude of problems for our people; birth defects, and twisted strands of cancer,” said Fairbanks. “ No one took notice or interest when Native people wanted this stopped, now all of a sudden when it is becoming more of threat in non-Native communities, there is alarm and action.”
Gary Mulcahy, a member of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe, emphasized the connection between the raising of Shasta Dam, the peripheral tunnels and building of new dams that many tribal members and Delta folks made with their signs and banners at the event.
“It is interesting how fracking would bring out 4,000 to 5,000 people to a demonstration because this fracking, one way or the other, will hurt the water supply,” he noted. “But when you talk about agribusiness taking water drip by drip and drop by drop by building canals, raising dams or building more dams supposed to supply more water than the system can deliver in the first place, only a few voices are heard like a candle in the darkness.”
“Fracking involves your water from north to south, from east to west, water that is ultimately controlled by big corporations, including agribusiness and oil companies. If fracking is bad, then so is raising dams, building new dams and building the tunnels,” he concluded.
Hopefully, this highly successful rally will be followed by even bigger rallies and demonstrations in Sacramento and throughout the state opposing fracking, the peripheral tunnels, the Shasta Dam raise and the building of new dams.
Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch, one of the co-founders of Californians Against Fracking, said anti-fracking activists will keep building the movement to put pressure on Brown to ban fracking.
“Water is a human right and fracking is a violation of that human right, as are the twin tunnels,” Scow concluded.
Caleen Sisk: “We call to Olebis to look down on us and send down the good blessings. We call on sacred Mt. Shasta to help bless us with this sacred water, so it will continue to bring us and our children’s, children and so on in to the future with good health and long life for all our relations. We are calling on the water and fire spirits to help bring back the balance in our world, as wild salmon, wolves, beavers and giant trees make their way back. We sing to the water that flows from the sacred spring on Buliyum Puyuk (Mt. Shasta) to the ocean and back again…..waters from Mauna Kea come back and answer the call and the lakes of fire send their blessings. We ask the fires inside of Mt Shasta and all the sacred fires inside the mountains of the world to help us bring understanding and balance to our way of life and change our lives to the good again. Bring back the original taste of water to guide the people and all relatives back to healthy thinking and acting. For nothing will be here with out fresh clean healthy WATER. No air can be produced without waters to grow the trees, the Kelp, ……this world was created in the most perfect functioning way…..but now so much destruction and toxic waste ….for mega money for a few. We pray that our words will be heard and the August Fire and Water Ceremony be good in sending our prayers up the Creator!!!”
Background on fracking and oil industry money
For those not familiar with the practice, fracking blasts massive amounts of chemical-laced water into the ground to crack rock formations in order to extract oil and natural gas, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The process routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimethylbenzene.
Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells over 200 times in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and truthout.org last year. WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd served on the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces during much of the time that this fracking of our marine waters was taking place.
The Center cited two studies documenting the harm fracking poses to human health. Birth defects are more common in babies born to mothers living near fracked wells, according to a new study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. In California, a recent Center report found that oil companies used 12 dangerous “air toxic” chemicals more than 300 times in the Los Angeles Basin over a period of a few months.
Besides posing a big threat to human health, the pollution to California groundwater supplies, rivers and the Delta that will result from fracking and acidization will devastate already imperiled populations of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento, spent over $4.67 million, more than any other interest group, while lobbying state government in 2013, according to data released by the Secretary State’s Office and compiled by the Capitol Morning Report.
Another oil company giant, Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries, spent $3.95 million, the third most spent by any group on lobbying state government in 2013. Chevron also spent much of its money on lobbying against bills that would ban or regulate fracking in California.
Since it is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, the oil industry is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4.
A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators. (http://blog.center4tobaccopolicy.org/oil-lobbying-in-california)
Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society spoke at a strategy session co-sponsored by First Nations Studies SFU, and the English Department, SFU at the downtown Harbour Centre campus Friday, January 24th, on unceded Coast Salish Territories.
Members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, who have been arrested and incarcerated at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, are on a speaking tour in January and February to raise awareness about their struggle against fracking, their ongoing assertion and exercise of nationhood, and the repression they face from police and courts.
“Our warriors are still being mistreated in the system, justice for our political prisoners of war.” Suzanne Patles
A Houston-based energy company that has faced ferocious resistance from a Mi’kmaq-led coalition is ending its shale gas exploration work for the year, says Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi.
Levi said Friday that the RCMP informed him that SWN Resources Canada is ending its exploration work, but will return in 2015.
Levi said SWN and its contractors would be picking up geophones from the side of the highway today. Geophones interact with thumper trucks to create imaging of shale gas deposits underground.
“They are just going to be picking up their gear today,” said Levi. “At least people can take a break for Christmas.”
Demonstrations against the company escalated this week. Demonstrators twice burned tires on Hwy 11 which was the area where SWN was conducting its shale gas exploration.
SWN could not be reached for comment.
SWN obtained an extension to an injunction against the demonstrators Monday after arguing it needed two more weeks to finish its work. In its court filing, SWN claimed it needed about 25 km left to explore.
Levi said the Mi’kmaq community, which sits about 80 km north of Moncton, will be there again in 2015 to oppose the company. Levi said SWN will be returning to conduct exploratory drilling.
“We can’t allow any drilling, we didn’t allow them to do the testing from the beginning,” said Levi.
Levi said word that SWN is leaving is no cause for celebration just yet.
“We went through a lot,” he said. “We need some time for this to sink in and think about everything, think about what we went through…People did a lot of sacrificing.”
Residents of a rural northern Texas area were awoken early on Thanksgiving by not one but two earthquakes. Such quakes have become alarmingly normal during the past month, and fracking practices could be to blame.
North Texas has been feeling a string of earthquakes — more than a dozen — over the past few weeks. Most have been centered around Azle, with the most recent [previous] one being on Tuesday morning. All of those quakes have registered between 2.0 and 3.6 in magnitude. Those who live in the small town have grown concerned.
Azle leaders have called on state officials to have geologists investigate the cause of these quakes. “The citizens are concerned,” said Azle Assistant City Manager Lawrence Bryant at a city council meeting. “They should be.”
“If it’s a man-made cause, it would be nice to know,” Bryant added.
By “man-made,” Bryant means fracking-industry-made. Frackers pump their polluted wastewater deep into the ground, a practice well known as a cause of temblors. A wastewater injection well was shut down near Youngstown, Ohio, in late 2011 after it triggered more than 100 earthquakes of growing intensity in just a year.
University of Texas earthquake researcher Cliff Frolich says the recent Texas flurry could be the result of wastewater injection. From KHOU:
“I’d say it certainly looks very possible that the earthquakes are related to injection wells,” [Frolich] said in an interview from Austin.
Frolich notes, however, that thousands of such wells have operated in Texas for decades, with no quakes anywhere near them. He adds that there are probably a thousand unknown faults beneath Texas.
Azle mayor Alan Brundrett says it’s important to determine whether this latest series of quakes are man-made.
“What could it cause, down the road?” he asked. “What if a 5.0 happens and people’s houses start falling in on them?”
Brundrett has installed an earthquake alert app on his smartphone. It shows a dozen minor quakes near his town since November 5.
The growing problem of earthquakes in America is not just limited to Ohio and Texas. The following U.S. Geological Survey graph shows how the number of earthquakes with a magnitude of at least three has spiked as fracking has become widespread. “USGS scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells,” the agency notes.
As Amanda Polchies knelt down in the middle of the blocked-off highway with nothing but an eagle feather held aloft separating her from a solid wall of blue advancing police officers, she prayed.
“I prayed for the women that were in pain, I prayed for my people, I prayed for the RCMP officers,” the 28-year-old Elsipogtog First Nation member told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I prayed that everything would just end and nobody would get hurt.”
As Polchies faced off against hundreds of RCMP officers on the highway near her community, she couldn’t help but notice how many of those beside her were indigenous women—the keepers of the water, fighting to keep fracking chemicals out of the ground.
“So many people got hurt,” she said as she recalled “looking around, seeing all of these women.”
Mi’kmaq women face police in anti-fracking protest on October 17, 2013, in New Brunswick near Elsipogtog First Nation. (Photo: Twitter)
Polchies was just one of the dozens of indigenous people who grappled with fully armed RCMP officers just south of a town called Rexton on October 17, 2013. Very early that morning, the RCMP had moved in on an encampment of Mi’kmaq Warrior Society members and others as they slept. They were enforcing an injunction against the blockade of a worksite for SWN Resources Canada, the company that has been searching for shale gas in the area since spring.
Photos and video of the raid show several snipers wearing camouflage or dressed all in black lying in surrounding fields. Hundreds of photos have emerged on social media from this day that show Indigenous people—both men and women of all ages—confronting police. But it’s hard not to notice how many of those images show indigenous women. Many women can be seen drumming, singing, praying and even smudging RCMP officers with the cleansing smoke of sage, cedar, sweetgrass or other traditional medicine.
By the time Polchies arrived that afternoon, the situation had become a standoff. On one side, RCMP officers in a straight line across the highway. On the other, opponents to shale gas—the majority of them Mi’kmaq. Before long, the situation became a fight. Arguments erupted, women screamed, and weaponry was raised. The RCMP used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and even dogs. Polchies saw two women hit with pepper spray in the face. Seeing these women in pain “spoke to” her, she said.
“I just realized I had a feather in my hand,” Polchies said. “I just knelt down in the middle of the road and I started praying.”
Polchies didn’t realize it at the time but a reporter with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network snapped a photo from behind with his phone and posted it to Twitter. That image of Polchies kneeling down with a raised eagle feather, facing a line of officers in front of her, has come to symbolize the conflict between First Nations and the government-supported oil and gas companies that covet the resources under their land. And central to that conflict are women, the defenders of the water.
Mi’kmaq women stared down RCMP officers near Elsipogtog First Nation on October 17. (Photo: Twitter)
SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of Texas-based Southwestern Energy Company, has a license to explore 1 million hectares in the province of New Brunswick. While the company has only been searching for shale gas deposits, protesters believe that once they find them, it won’t be be long before the company employs the controversial technique known as fracking to get at it. Many fear that the practice, which involves injecting toxic chemicals into cracks in the rock to loosen the deposits, will contaminate and destroy local water systems. Protesters want to see SWN pack up and go home. Many women have been arrested, jailed and even injured as they passionately defend their life-giving water supply. Protests have been ongoing since June.
Indigenous women are traditionally responsible for water, said Cheryl Maloney, who is from Shubenacadie First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community near Truro, Nova Scotia, and is president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.
“Women have a connection to the water based on the moon and our cycles,” Maloney told Indian Country Today Media Network. “But that alone doesn’t explain the intense connection that our young people, the seventh generation have.”
There is an awakening going on, she said, with young women revitalizing their culture after years of seeing it being oppressed and taken away from their families through residential school.
“All the prophecies are pointing to these young people,” she said. “Our young people are spiritually awakened. Make no mistake, they are spiritually driven and following their ancestors.”
Haley Bernard, 22, of Pictou Landing, Nova Scotia, heeded the call. The recent graduate of Cape Breton University in Mi’kmaq Studies gave her support on the front lines on October 17, answering her best friend Suzanne Patles’ cry for help.
“Women are protectors of the water, we have water in our body, we carry a child, and they’re covered in water, so we’re meant to do that. We’re supposed to do that,” said Bernard. “We know the law, we know our treaties, we know what we’re supposed to protect.”
For her part, Polchies never planned on becoming a symbol. When the line of RCMP officers moved forward, she remained on her knees.
“I heard someone behind me saying, ‘Keep praying if you’re not going to get up.’ That’s what I did.”
All she could see was darkness from the uniforms that surrounded her.
“I just closed my eyes and held my feather and prayed for protection,” she said. “Then all of a sudden there was light.”
Polchies said that’s when RCMP officers moved to the other side of the road and started arresting people. One of the women Polchies saw was 66-year-old Doris Copage, a respected Mi’kmaq Elder from the Elsipogtog First Nation.
“I got pepper sprayed, I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think they would do anything to the women,” Copage told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Armed with only a crucifix, Copage had set out that day with her husband in response to a call for help from the protest site. Seeing the gravity of the situation, Copage started to recite the rosary with the community’s priest, also present.
“The [RCMP officers] were really mocking at us, talking and laughing,” Copage said, adding that she questioned one of them at the frontline.
“I asked him, ‘Are you really ready to kill the Natives?’ ” she said, and was shocked by his answer.
“He looks at me and says, ‘Yes, if I have to,’ ” Copage said. “I said, ‘How many are you planning to kill?’ He didn’t say how many. He put his three fingers out.”
Copage told the officer that the indigenous people had no protection and that she had only came out as an Elder to pray. She intends to continue standing up for her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the community.
“I want to call it ‘protect,’ ” said Copage, rather than “protest.” “We are here to protect our water, our land. We have a river. It’s a beautiful river, we love it and we respect it.”
Of the 40 people arrested, three men are still in custody, with no trial date in sight. Aaron Francis, Germaine “Junior” Breau and Coady Stevens, members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, pleaded not guilty in New Brunswick Provincial Courthouse on Friday November 8, according to a statement from the society.
“I am happy they have entered their plea of not guilty,” said Susan Levi-Peters, former Chief of Elsipogtog First Nation, in a statement on November 8, “and I am saddened that they are still locked up for protecting our women and elders who were for fighting for our water and land.”
Blockades have been in the news lately, given indigenous resistance to fracking and other industrial invasions around Turtle Island.
But a different sort of blockade is happening across the Pacific at the tranquil Nara Park in Japan, about 300 miles southwest of Tokyo. It’s a deer park, meaning it is filled with gardens and deer—the Sika deer, Cervus nippon to be exact, also known as the Japanese deer—that are spotted and thus appear fawnlike.
“The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer,” according to the website Japan-Guide.com. “Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1,200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have been designated a natural treasure.”
Shinto, the site explains, means “the way of the gods” and is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people, “as old as Japan itself.” It and Buddhism are the main religions in the country today.
Visitors can buy little crackers to feed the deer. Though the animals can get feisty if they think you’re about to hand over a cracker, they are for the most part tame, the site says, even bowing when offered food, as the website Kotaku.com notes.
In August the deer staged a sit-in of sorts on the road that bisects the park.