FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward is brushing aside criticism that there hasn't been enough consultation with First Nations about shale gas, saying his government has had more discussions with them than any past government in the province.
"This government has been engaged with First Nations communities, from my perspective, without a doubt more than any other government in New Brunswick's history," Alward said Wednesday.
He said his government remains committed to developing natural resources, including shale gas. But he added that shale gas development is only at the exploration stage and further discussions will be held before the province proceeds.
"There would have to be very significant consultations and environmental impact assessments before anything else would be able to move forward," Alward said.
Critics including the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance have said last week's violent clash in Rexton, N.B., between shale gas protesters, including members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, and police could have been avoided had the provincial government done a better job of consulting with them.
To further its case, the government released a chronology of meetings it held over the past year with energy company SWN Resources and First Nations.
"Not only has the Crown met its consultation requirements for the current seismic program, but has gone above and beyond to ensure that First Nations have full details about the current program,” Energy Minister Craig Leonard said in a statement Tuesday.
"As we have said all along, if oil and gas reserves are found through the exploration process, the government and proponents would have to enter into further consultations with First Nations to ensure that the environment was protected and that Aboriginal peoples benefited from oil and gas development."
Forty people were arrested and weapons including guns and improvised explosive devices were seized last Thursday when the Mounties enforced a court-ordered injunction to end the blockade of a SWN Resources storage compound for exploration equipment and vehicles.
Six police vehicles including an unmarked van were burned. The RCMP said they had Molotov cocktails tossed at them, and in response they fired non-lethal beanbag-type bullets and used pepper spray to defuse the situation.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 at the end of September after protesters began spilling onto the road. The Mounties said traffic is now able to pass, but protesters, including members of Elsipogtog, remain at the site.
Alward has met Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock in an effort to resolve the situation and he said Wednesday his officials are trying to set up another meeting with the leader.