New Brunswick premier, First Nation to form group to end shale gas dispute

Posted: Updated:

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward and members of the Elsipogtog First Nation have agreed to form a working group to help end a protest over shale gas exploration that is now into its second week.

Alward and Chief Arren Sock left a three-hour meeting at a Fredericton hotel Monday to say they will continue talking in an effort to resolve the dispute.

"I can say that we have a consensus that we're working towards finding a peaceful resolution and we will continue that work," Alward said.

He said the working group, which would include members from his government, Elsipogtog and the energy industry, is to begin its work immediately.

But Sock said there were still many details to be worked out.

"I'll have to go back to my community and consult with them and then try to figure out the terms and the logistics of the working group," he said.

The RCMP blocked Highway 134 near Rexton on Sept. 29 after a protest against shale gas exploration 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 energy company SWN Resources to store exploration equipment. The protesters, which include members of the Elsipogtog community, want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province.

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.

Last Thursday, SWN was granted an injunction to end the blockade of their compound but the RCMP has not enforced it.

Sock said he hopes the RCMP don't enforce the injunction while talks are underway.

"Right now, I just hope that the company acts on good faith and maybe respects the work that the premier and I have so far got done," Sock said.

Alward again stressed that he doesn't have control over decisions of the RCMP and SWN Resources, but said he hoped a solution that satisfies all sides can be found.

"We are doing what we are able to do and certainly the company is well aware of what work is ongoing," Alward said.