By Jorge Barrera
APN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION, NB–A Houston-based energy company facing intense opposition to its shale gas exploration work is expected to return Sunday to retrieve equipment in an area where its exploration trucks were stopped this past Thursday by dozens of Mi’kmaq demonstrators and their supporters.
SWN Resources Canada is planning to return to a stretch along Hwy 11, about 40 kilometres north of Elsipogtog First Nation, to pick up geophones which are currently strung along the highway, according to Louis Jerome, who has taken on an informal leadership role in the anti-shale gas opposition movement.
Jerome, who is from the Mi’kmaq community of Gesgapegiag First Nation in Quebec, said he was called to a Saturday afternoon meeting with three RCMP offices and two other Elsipogtog residents where he was informed of the company’s plans.
“(The RCMP) want it to be a peaceful demonstration and I told them it is always peaceful,” said Jerome.
Jerome said the RCMP officers said that the Mounties would not be accompanying the company, but would be prepared to intervene if someone breaks the peace.
“If something goes wrong the RCMP says they will step in,” said Jerome, during a late evening interview with APTN National News at a recently erected camp situation between two sets of geophone lines on Hwy 11.
SWN’s employees will be allowed to work, but they should be prepared to take their time, he said.
“They are allowed to pick up (the geophones), but we will stall them,” said Jerome. “It’ll be like working with a turtle.”
Jerome said the meeting happened at about 3 p.m. local time near Elsipogtog just off Hwy 116 at a site that was once the hub of the Mi’kmaq-led anti-shale gas movement. The site was also the scene of a meeting last Sunday where SWN’s lawyer told several community members the company would be returning to work for 14 days.
The company’s work was ground to a halt on the highway Thursday after dozens of Mi’kmaq demonstrators and their supporters turned out to block the movement to SWN’s thumper trucks. RCMP officers formed lines around the trucks to keep the demonstrators back. One woman was arrested and the RCMP said it was investigating several incidents of vandalism, including to an SWN vehicle and geophones.
Geophones pick up vibrations created by thumper trucks to produce images of shale gas deposits underground.
Jerome said he wasn’t sure if SWN was coming back to pick up all its geophones, which are strung in kilometres-long lines along the shoulder of Hwy 11, or just those that have been damaged by “beavers.”
SWN has not rolled out its thumper trucks since Thursday’s incident. The company kept its vehicles off the highway Friday while a New Brunswick judge listened to arguments in a Fredericton court room where lawyers for Elsipogtog’s band council attempted to get an injunction against SWN’s exploration work. The province and the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick are named in Elsipogtog’s court action, along with SWN.
Elsipogtog is arguing it wasn’t properly consulted on SWN’s work and that radical elements had infiltrated the anti-shale gas camp, creating a volatile situation that could echo the Oct. 17 raid by RCMP tactical units on a Mi’kmaq-led protest camp on Route 134 in Rexton, NB.
That camp, which is about 30 km away from Thursday’s confrontation, was blocking SWN’s exploration vehicles which were parked in a compound owned by JD Irving Ltd. About 40 people were arrested during the operation which the RCMP said was triggered by the presence of rifles and crude explosives at the camp.
Elsipogtog’s court filing also says there is a military presence involved with the RCMP policing the situation.
The Canadian military says it has received no formal request to assist the RCMP in its policing work.
During Ontario’s Caledonia crisis in 2006 when the Iroquois community of Six Nations reclaimed the Douglas Cree Estates housing development, the Canadian military prepared a contingency plan to intervene if called.