By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
LAKETON, NB–It was another day of skirmishing on the highway in the ongoing battle between a Mi’kmaq-led group of anti-fracking demonstrators and a Houston-based company trying to wrap up the last of its shale gas exploration work for the year.
On the one-month anniversary of the Oct. 17 RCMP raid on an anti-fracking camp in Rexton, NB, a contractor working for SWN Resources Canada scrapped plans to pick up geophones strung along the shoulder of Hwy 11 after facing a demand from demonstrators that the company also retrieve the wires connecting the equipment.
Geophones interact with thumper trucks to create imaging of shale gas deposits underground. The thumper trucks deliver vibrations into the ground which are then transmitted to geophones which then send the data to measuring equipment.
On Thursday, dozens of demonstrators forced SWN’s thumper trucks to turn back.
Elsipogtog residents, along with supporters from other Mi’kmaq communities and local Acadians, have been trying to stop SWN’s shale gas exploration for months. Many fear discovery of shale gas will lead to a controversial extraction method called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Opponents of fracking say it threatens water tables, while proponents say it poses no danger at all.
The New Brunswick government has given SWN its full backing and Premier David Alward has called the ongoing battle between SWN and demonstrators a “beachhead” in his government’s effort to bring more resource development to the province.
Sunday’s skirmish occurred in the same vicinity as Thursday’s confrontation which sits about 30 km north of the October raid site and about 46 km northeast of Elsipogtog.
“We did it again,” shouted some of the demonstrators after trucks belonging to Geokinetics turned around and left the area.
Initially it appeared that Geokinetics would be retrieving the geophones and the connecting wiring which is strung across 15 km on Hwy 11. One of the workers told APTN National News that the wires were going into their trucks along with the geophones.
Moments later, an RCMP liaison officer, known as “Dickie,” told the demonstrators that the company didn’t have the “resources” to pick up the wiring and the geophones.
“Either they are going to pull out all together or allow them to pick up their yellow boxes and they’ll come back another day to pick up the wire,” said the RCMP liaison officer.
The demonstrators, however, cried foul saying the terms of the initial arrangement had been altered.
“You show up here and your mouth starts doing this here and all of a sudden it’s all different,” said Melissa Augustine, who is from the Mi’kmaq community of Burnt Church.
“This is what they are conveying to me and this is what I am conveying to you,” said the RCMP liaison officer.
The meeting ended abruptly after one of the demonstrators, Maxime Daigle, attempted to read a letter, later described as a writ, to the RCMP liaison accusing the force of treason.
The RCMP liaison, however, refused to stay to hear Daigle read the whole thing.
“I read it yesterday,” said the liaison.
“Hey come back, you scared of this or what?” said Daigle, a former oil and gas worker with experience across Western Canada and the U.S. who now campaigns against shale gas extraction.
Soon after, Geokinetic’s trucks turned around and left.
“They looked like a bunch of mice running away,” said Augustine. “They broke their word to pick up their garbage.”
Louis Jerome, another Mi’kmaq demonstrator from Gesgapegiag First Nation in Quebec, said if SWN’s contractor returns, it will face the same thing.
“If they come back, we are going to make sure that they take all their equipment,” said Jerome. “I think they got the message.”
The symbolism of Sunday’s small victory on the one-month anniversary of the raid remained with some demonstrators after calm returned to their recently erected camp on Hwy 11.
“It’s a powerful day,” said Callum Moscovitch, from St. Margaret’s Bay, NS.
He said a lot had changed since the chaos and confusion following the raid, which resulted in 40 arrests and the torching of several RCMP vehicles.
Moscovitch said the camp was experiencing a level of unity that had been missing for awhile.
“It’s amazing to have arrived here from a point of tension, fear and distrust,” he said. “We are concentrating on our strength and where it lies is in prayer. It brings us together.”
The battle, however, is far from over.
On Monday, a New Brunswick judge is expected to rule on an application for an injunction filed by the Elsipogtog band council against SWN and the province. The judge could rule in favour of Elsipogtog and end SWN’s exploration for the season.
Or, the judge could rule against it and SWN would be able to return under the full cover of the courts.