POLITICS

New Brunswick RCMP disappointed that talks have not resolved shale gas protest

10/10/2013 03:47 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
FREDERICTON - The commanding officer for the RCMP in New Brunswick says he's disappointed that discussions between the provincial government and the Elsipogtog First Nation have yet to resolve a shale gas protest that is into its second week.

Assistant commissioner Roger Brown says the RCMP is monitoring the situation near Rexton and will take a measured approach with public safety and people's rights in mind.

"Emotions are high," Brown said Thursday. "The RCMP respects and protects people's right to peaceful protest, as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we all need to respect each other and our different points of view."

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.

Premier David Alward and Chief Arren Sock met this week and agreed to set up a working group to work towards a resolution.

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

A spokesman for SWN Resources declined comment Thursday while the matter was before the courts.

Brown said there have been a lot of questions since the protest began about why the RCMP has not stepped in, but he said police are respecting the negotiations and efforts for a peaceful resolution.

"But if it comes to a point where talks break off, and things happen, make no mistake about it that we're in a position to respond," Brown said.

"I don't want to see anybody hurt and I don't want to see any property damaged, but that's the ideal," he said. "Is that going to happen? Probably time will tell."

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.