Shale gas protesters say SWN Resources lacks ‘social licence’

About 40 people who are opposed to shale gas development in New Brunswick demonstrated at Moncton City Hall this morning.

They say they delivered an open letter to Southwestern Resources Canada (SWN), saying it doesn't have a so-called "social licence" to operate in New Brunswick.

The letter is also addressed to Corridor Resources, Contact Exploration, Windsor Energy and Geokinetics Exploration.

It has been signed by 27 community groups, unions, and associations, which they say represent 50,000 New Brunswickers — urban and rural; anglophone, francophone and Aboriginal.

It urges the oil and gas companies to stop any further exploration and drilling until "proper public consultation has taken place."

"As evidenced by the results of several polls, and as indicated by continued public protests and the increasing number of municipalities that have passed bans on fracking, most New Brunswickers do not want exploration and further development of shale hydrocarbons," the letter states.

"Furthermore, the current provincial government has neither a mandate nor the consent of the aboriginal and non-aboriginal people of New Brunswick to allow hydrocarbon extraction in our shale formations."

"If your licence was renewed after our petition of November 2012, and since the renewal was only made possible by a questionable amendment of our Oil and Gas Act, please note that we do not accept as valid your current exploration licence, and neither will a democratic government, formed after the provincial election next year, grant its conversion to a lease," the letter states.

SWN Resources is scheduled to be testing in New Brunswick again this summer to determine if developing a shale gas industry in the province is viable.

The company was forced to abandon its seismic testing plans last summer because of delays in obtaining the necessary permits from the provincial government.

In August 2011, SWN wrapped up its seismic testing about a month early after vandals caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the company's equipment.

SWN has the rights to explore about 1.1 million hectares of the 1.4 million the province has issued licences for, according to information released in 2012.

The majority of SWN’s licences stretch from southwestern New Brunswick and then across the province to Richibucto.

SWN officials have estimated there is a 10 per cent chance of the company establishing shale gas production in New Brunswick, but says it could take until 2016 to make a final decision.

Tuesday's protest in Moncton is the latest in a long string of anti-shale gas demonstrations across the province over the past two years.

Opponents are worried about the impact hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as hydro-fracking, will have on the water supply and surrounding environment.

Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

In February, the Alward government introduced new rules governing the oil and gas industry. Energy Minister Craig Leonard has said they are among the strictest in North America. Environment Minister Bruce Fitch has said water protection is the government's top priority.

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