Anti-fracking demonstrators set tires ablaze to block a New Brunswick highway Monday in a fiery response to a judge’s decision to extend an injunction limiting their protests against a Texas-based shale gas exploration company.
In a courtroom in Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, Judge Paulette Garnett ruled to continue through Dec. 17 the injunction obtained by SWN Resources Canada against a coalition of protesters led by Mi’kmaq indigenous people from the Elsipogtog First Nation.
The injunction, which SWN obtained on Nov. 22, is designed to keep protesters from interfering with SWN’s seismic testing work. It requires that demonstrators remain at least 250 yards in front of or behind contractors and their vehicles and 20 yards to the side.
The Mi’kmaq have argued that SWN is conducting exploration work on land that they never ceded to the crown when they signed treaties with the British in the 18th century.
New Brunswick’s government granted SWN licenses to explore for shale gas in 2010 in exchange for investment in the province worth approximately CA$47 million (about US$44 million).
The protesters fear that exploration will inevitably lead to gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into shale rock to release gas deposits trapped inside. Opponents say fracking can contaminate the environment, especially water.
SWN has been trying since mid-November to complete the final 10 days of work it says are left in its exploration season. The company has claimed in court documents supporting the injunction application that each day of lost work costs about $54,000 and that vandalism by protesters has resulted in damage to more than 1,000 geophones — pieces of equipment used for seismic testing in conjunction with specialized trucks.
But the injunction has not deterred the anti-fracking alliance of indigenous people and members of New Brunswick’s Acadian and anglophone communities, a grouping that has consolidated since Elsipogtog residents began trying to stop SWN’s exploration work last May. Over the past week there have been daily confrontations with police, as protesters — who prefer to be known as protectors of the land and water — have persisted in their efforts to slow the seismic-testing operation.
“This isn’t just a native issue,” Edgar Clair of Elsipogtog First Nation told Al Jazeera from the site of the blockade on Route 11. “But the natives want the world to know that this is Mi’kmaq territory, and they won’t back down, and they won’t abide by this injunction.”
Earlier Monday afternoon protesters blocked Route 11 — the latest front line in this conflict over shale gas exploration — after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who decide how and when to enforce the injunction, arrested several people on or near the highway. People at the site said that there were more than 100 RCMP officers in the area, that some were armed with rubber pellet guns often used for crowd control and that at least one K-9 unit was on hand.
As night descended, there were reports that police in riot gear were near the blockade. The RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Our people are tired, and this is a response to the justice system,” said an Elsipogtog community member who was at the site and asked to go by the name Jane Doe 372, for fear of being targeted by police. The moniker is a reference to the injunction that names five individuals and a John and Jane Doe. “We’re tired of not being taken seriously and that the treaties we agreed to are not being taken seriously.”
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