Anti-shale gas protesters target energy minister's office

A group of 20 protesters demonstrated outside of Energy Minister Craig Leonard's Fredericton office on Monday and called for a public meeting to discuss the impact of a potential shale gas industry in the capital city area.

Members of the Council of Canadians and others opposed to the shale gas industry gathered outside of Leonard's constituency office.

The protesters left a 400-name petition seeking a town hall meeting in the city at the energy minister's office.

Mark D'Arcy, the protest's organizer, said they are only asking the provincial government to live up to its promise to hold public meetings on the contentious subject of shale gas exploration.

"In October of 2011, Premier David Alward gave a very public speech and he said very emphatically that all government MLAs will hold public, town hall meetings on shale gas to their constituents. And Craig Leonard and the other three Fredericton MLAs have yet to do that," he said.

D'Arcy said Fredericton is surrounded by land where companies want to explore for shale gas and residents in the area want answers from their elected officials.

Two years ago, Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside asked for a police presence at a council meeting after D'Arcy and a group of protesters arrived at a council meeting and took over a microphone.

The group wanted Fredericton to pass a bylaw opposing the shale gas industry in the city.

The Fredericton demonstration on Monday was low key compared to the protests that are being held in Kent County against seismic testing in the region.

The RCMP has arrested more than 30 people at the various anti-shale gas protests in Kent County in recent weeks.

SWN Resources Canada is in eastern New Brunswick conducting seismic testing to see if there is enough gas to create a viable industry.

Many anti-shale gas protesters are concerned the seismic testing will lead to hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking.

The contentious mining practice includes injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground and that creates cracks in shale rock formations to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Protesters have said they are opposed to hydro-fracking over fears it could harm the environment.

The New Brunswick government has brought in new rules and regulations that govern the oil and gas sector. Premier David Alward said the new rules are among the toughest in North America.

Alward has also said many times in the last two years that developing a shale gas industry would not only help dig the provincial government out of debt but it would also create jobs to keep young people living here.

Michael Haan, the Canada Research chair in population and social policy at the University of New Brunswick, said the provincial government ought to be concerned about the ongoing exodus of young people, who are seeking work in other parts of Canada.

Haan said the provincial government should prepare for the possibility that another wave of young people could be leaving soon.

"People born between 1946 and ‘64 left in their 20s, late teens, early 20s. Their children, the Baby Echo is now approaching that age category," Haan said.

"So what I'm expecting is that they're going to follow the patterns of their predecessors and begin to see higher rates of outmigration."

Recent migration numbers reinforce Haan's point that New Brunswickers are leaving for other parts of the country.

New Brunswick lost 1,335 people to other parts of the country, primarily Alberta, between January and July 2012. That represents the largest exodus since late 2006 and nearly triple the rate experienced in 2011, according to Statistics Canada data.

Haan told a business group earlier this month the provincial government needs to start creating policies that will address the outmigration program.

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