LAKETON,NB–A heavy RCMP presence is in an area Tuesday where a Houston-based energy company is expected to resume its controversial shale gas exploration.
About 30 people from Elsipogtog and their supporters have set up a camp near Hwy 11 by Laketon, NB., where SWN Resources is expected to begin laying down geophones in preparation for seismic testing set for Wednesday.
The exploration area is about 46 kilometres north of Elsipogtog First Nation.
Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi said the RCMP presence may be larger than what was witnessed during the Oct. 17 raid of an anti-fracking camp that was blocking SWN’s vehicles in a compound owned by JD Irving Ltd.
“You never know what they are going to do,” said Levi. “They might be shooting their real guns this time, that is what I am worried about.”
Levi said he’s been getting calls and texts all morning from an RCMP liaison officer trying to speak to him.
“I don’t feel like to talking to them right now,” said Levi.
RCMP Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said the RCMP is monitoring the situation.
“Based on things that have happened previously, it would be irresponsible for us not to be in the area,” said Rogers-Marsh.
Rogers-Marsh said the RCMP is not there to protect SWN.
“We are not private security,” she said. “We have no issues as far as protesting, everybody has a right to do it as long as they do it peacefully and don’t break the law.”
SWN referred calls to communications firm Cape Consulting. Calls to senior consultant Tracey Stephenson went to voice mail.
About a dozen Mi’kmaq Warriors camped out overnight along Hwy 11. The group was joined by reinforcements on Tuesday morning and people there gathered around a small fire keeping warm.
“Geophones are all set on the road, SWN is working really fast and the trucks and driving back and forth,” one of the people at the site told APTN National News.
SWN’s lawyer Michael Connors, who is a partner with East Coast law firm McInnes Cooper, met with several dozen people from the Elsipogtog First Nation and the surrounding communities late Sunday afternoon.
Connors told the people that SWN would withdraw a lawsuit against several community members if the Houston-based firm was allowed to finish its exploration work unimpeded.
The meeting was held at a longhouse erected at an anti-fracking encampment used over the past summer. The area sits off Hwy 116 near Elsipogtog First Nation.
Connors told the people in the longhouse that SWN would be working for 14 days and warned them not to block the company’s movements or they would face violence.
“I’m not asking anyone not to protest, but I am asking that we don’t do anything that would lead to violence,” said Connors, according to video of the meeting posted on Facebook by Brian Milliea. “Unfortunately, blockades lead to violence.”
Connors said SWN just wants to finish its work and leave the area.
“We don’t want violence and if we can get through two weeks then we will go away for awhile,” said Connors. “I am not saying we are not going to come back, we may not come back, but I think everybody needs some time, you know a break.”
Levi told Connors that the community would not be backing down.
“We are going to be there. Whatever happens, the ball is in your court. Whatever happens, you’re the ones who are going to make the calls,” said Levi, according to the nine minute video. “Us as Natives and the protectors of this land, we are going to protect it, it is our land, we never ceded this land and we are going to protect it before these waters are contaminated.”
A woman in the crowd, who identified as non-Native, also pledged opposition to the exploration.
“As non-Natives we are going to protect the future of our children,” said the woman, in the video. “So non-Natives and Natives are together.”
SWN has faced intense and prolonged opposition to its shale gas exploration work around Elsipogtog First Nation which exploded after heavily armed RCMP tactical units raided an anti-fracking camp along Route 134 on Oct. 17.
While the raid freed SWN’s trucks, it sparked day-long clashes between Elsipogtog residents and the RCMP. Several RCMP vehicles were torched and about 40 people were arrested.
A camp still remains on Route 134, which sits about 15 km southeast of Elsipogtog.
People in Elsipogtog and surrounding communities fear the discovery of shale gas would lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The controversial extraction method is viewed by many as posing a dire threat to water sources.