The anti-SWN demonstration in Toronto. Photo by the author.
Harsh opposition to Texas energy firm SWN spread throughout Canada this week. Demonstrations popped up across the country in solidarity with protests in New Brunswick that resulted in a brutal RCMP response. The militarized police force has been enforcing a court ordered injunction to protect the company's natural gas exploration on unceded native land. An international call to action came from Idle No More and Elsipogtog First Nation using the hashtag #SHUTDOWNCANADA. The call was answered by roadblocks, banner drops and solidarity protests in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and even Ireland on December 2nd. Evidently, these movements have done something to stir SWN—as the company announced today they’d be shutting down all operations in New Brunswick until 2015.
The company had been conducting seismic testing for natural gas deposits on traditional Mi’kmaq land, a process that would more than likely lead to a lucrative new method of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, endearingly euphemized as fracking. The method involves a secret blend of pressurized toxic, radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals mixed with millions of litres of water and sand pumped two to three kilometres underground, to fracture shale rock containing previously unreachable natural gas reserves. Obviously the main risk associated with injecting toxic chemicals deep into the earth would be ground water contamination, which has already been well documented. Other unforeseen risks include earthquakes, long-term energy sustainability, emissions of methane (a green house gas vastly more potent than co2), and apparently gonorrhea.
In Quebec, where a fracking moratorium has been in place since 2011, one woman was nearly run over by a motorist who accelerated though a crowd at a solidarity blockade in a busy Montreal intersection. Bans and moratoriums on fracking have been organized all around the world.
The blockade in Vancouver. via Warrior Publications.
This week, the main road into the Port of Vancouver was blocked by a local activist group in a solidarity action at 7 AM and was held for an hour until a large police force was mobilized and dispersed the crowd. The Vancouver activists issued this media statement:
"The HWY 11 Land Defenders have faced brutal police repression from the RCMP defending their traditional lands and waters from the destructive practice of fracking. SWN resources, the Texas-based company that wants to conduct seismic testing on Mi’kmaq land, is seeking to extend an injunction against the HWY 11 encampment, to be enforced with the aid of the RCMP. Time and time again we have seen the RCMP act violently to defend environmental destruction at the command of corporations. Their actions violate the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, and re-affirm Canada as an unrelenting colonial state.
We condemn fracking, which has earned its shameful reputation poisoning water and boosting carbon emissions around the world. We decry the brutality of the RCMP response, and their ongoing collusion with corporate interests. We stand in solidarity with Land Defenders everywhere - from the Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick to the Unis’tot’en in British Columbia - who are fighting rampant and reckless resource extraction, which is the face of modern colonialism. We denounce the assertion that this destruction and the associated corruption, deceit, and violence are necessary. And today we shut down a key piece of the infrastructure of this ideological machine. #ShutDownCanada"
Tensions have been on the rise between SWN and activists in New Brunswick for months now, leading to a court ordered injunction on November 22nd designed to keep protestors away from SWN's seismic testing work. Despite the injunction and an RCMP highway checkpoint, protestors have still been intercepting SWN's seismic testing resulting in countless arrests of activists and journalists. In court, SWN argued that each day they cannot conduct testing it costs the company $54,000.
SWN has been granted licenses to search for natural gas on over one million hectares of the province (one seventh of the provinces land mass) in exchange for a $47 million dollar investment in the province. It should come as no surprise that the RCMP is being touted as an impromptu security force for the Texan energy corporation.
The coast-to-coast opposition is illustrative of a much larger and growing discontent shared by Canadians regarding the green light that the federal and many provincial governments have granted extraction-hungry energy firms. PM Steven Harper's deregulatory "budget" bill C-45 and the gutting of the Navigable Water Protection Act have effectively dismantled aboriginal treaty land rights and environmental protection for the vast majority of lakes and rivers in Canada. The door is now open for petroleum (tar sands) and natural gas companies like SWN to operate under a fraction of the environmental red tape and land restrictions that had been in place for decades.