MONCTON, N.B. – Premier David Alward of New Brunswick and members of the Elsipogtog First Nation have agreed to continue talks Monday in an effort to resolve a growing dispute over shale gas exploration.
Alward and three of his cabinet ministers met Sunday with Elsipogtog council members and other opponents of the shale gas industry at a hotel in Moncton, N.B., in an effort to end a protest that has closed a highway in eastern New Brunswick for a week.
Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock said nothing during the meeting changed their view that energy company SWN Resources should leave the province.
“In a nutshell, we want the company out of our province and the province wants to do business with the company,” Sock said following the three-hour meeting.
“We basically put our issues on the table and the province did the same, so I had to ask for a follow-up meeting.”
Alward said the meeting gave both his government and Elsipogtog members an opportunity to express their respective views in a discussion he described as “respectful.”
“People had a chance to voice their concerns and we had an opportunity to discuss the work that we’re doing in New Brunswick as well,” Alward said.
The RCMP blocked Highway 134, near Rexton, last Sunday after a protest over shale gas exploration by SWN Resources began spilling onto the road.
Protesters subsequently cut down trees across another part of the highway and have blocked an entrance to a compound used by SWN Resources to store exploration equipment.
On Thursday, a New Brunswick judge issued an injunction at the request of SWN Resources that would force the protesters to remove their blockade and allow the company access to their site.
The RCMP have not yet enforced the injunction, and Sock said he hoped it would not happen while talks with the government were underway.
Alward said it is SWN’s injunction and he doesn’t have a say in the matter.
“SWN has the permit to be able to do that work and ultimately there has been an injunction served,” he said. “That is outside the perspective of government.”
Members of the Elsipogtog community and other protesters have been demanding a meeting with the premier and want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and pull out of New Brunswick.
Opponents of the shale gas sector say the process used to extract the resource — hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking — could pollute drinking water. But proponents of the industry say such concerns are overblown and don’t take into account the possibility of replacing coal and oil with cleaner burning natural gas.
Sock said he was optimistic that his group and the government can find common ground, but he added it will take time and he expects there will be a series of meetings needed to resolve the dispute.