We need a change of heart

“It is a change of heart that’s needed, a change of direction,
an understanding in the bone that we must stop the desecration of our lands.”
Marilyn Lerch

Wednesday’s Telegraph Journal contained one journalist’s cynical and patronizing view of Unity Encampment in Rexton…the viewpoint of a stranger who walks through once and assumes he understands the whole story.  The following letter to the editor was written by a frequent visitor to the camp…one who has lingered and listened to hear the Heartbeat of a new community finding its way and growing stronger.

These words from Marilyn Lerch of Sackville:

Something beautiful, inspiring and historic has been happening in our province,this summer and fall of 2013. It has been coming to fruition for three years or more in people’s living rooms, in community halls in Berwick, Taymouth, St. Ignace, Bass River, Cornhill, Hillsborough and in the hearts and minds of countless thousands of our people. It manifested on country roads like 116 and 126 in Kent County in June and is continuing to grow at the Unity Encampment near Rexton today.

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I am talking, of course, about the grassroots movement to ban shale gas mining. And, though that remains the central thrust of this movement, it has become so much more. If you come with me into the talking circle near Rexton with the night sky brilliant with stars you will see what I mean.

You will find common folks speaking from the heart. No jargon, no doublespeak, just stories like this one from a young mother: My son is four years old and I saw him sitting by a tree the other day. He was talking to it. Then he stopped and listened. And then he spoke again. I want him to grow up in a world that honours trees like that.

A young First Nations man spoke about how he must change himself, become clean in mind, spirit and heart to carry on this struggle. There are few academics in the circle, but more and more students are coming. And they must return to the academies and teach what so many of their elders know but have not the courage to act on. There are no millionaires in the circle to my knowledge. And certainly few if any politicians have dared to come.

There are women who feel safer here than at home, men in beards and camouflage who know the land, young and old, people from all over the province and beyond, mixing, moving around in small circles sharing what they know.

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We are Francophones, Anglos, First Nations people talking together, laughing and planning together. I sit there for hours as the Talking Stick moves around the circle, as consensus is patiently found, woodsmoke in my hair and clothes, and I long for more writers, poets, thinkers, teachers, doctors, town councilors, to be there.

For if not now, when?

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No injunction or show of force by the RCMP or cosmetic talks with the government can stop what is building in our province. This is not a threat. It is simply that finally, finally New Brunswickers are seeing what it has cost us to be manipulated by a few powerful entities that have left our democratic process in shameful shreds.

Our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters at Elsipogtog are standing strong as protectors of the land. They do not want a job or revenue that comes at the price of poisoning land, water and air for their children. Who would want that? They are raising with powerful voices once again what their treaty rights have given them and what has been denied them for centuries. They are claiming anew what they have not ceded to anyone. And their rising up must be the rising up of all of us non-indigenous people.

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It is not a change of government that is the answer. New Brunswickers are sick of revolving door politics. It is a change of heart that’s needed, a change of direction, an understanding in the bone that we must stop the desecration of our lands. Now. The digging, scraping, fracking, at any cost with profits for a few must be denounced, decried, and sane alternatives offered. Now.

We must all cry out for a ban on shale gas mining, but more than that, we must all become protectors of the ground on which we stand.

A powerful, inspiring beginning has been made.
Where do you stand? Ask yourself, then act.
This opportunity, if missed, may not come again for a very long time.

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Unearthed: The Fracking Facade

Afrikaan filmmaker, Jolynn Minnaar’s documentary, Unearthed: The Fracking Facade, started off as her determination to explore the potential for shale gas development in South Africa. She ended up traveling internationally , including the United States and New Brunswick and interviewing over 400 people in her quest for the truth. She visited Moncton last June. The final 5 minutes are particular poignant.

And here is an interview in which she talks about how this independently funded film came about and what she now thinks about the industry.

“This film isn’t about me, about what I think, I’m a filmmaker. I’m 24 years old, I’m not a petrochemical engineer,  I’m not an oil company executive, I don’t have any history in this industry. What I seek to do is go to the various stakeholders, be that the company or someone who has cancer after being exposed to the chemicals used in fracing, and make their voices known because up until now there hasn’t been that exposure so in this debate and in south Africa and internationally, this has failed us. And governments I believe are making poorly informed decisions and a lack of public consultation and it goes down to the basic democratic processes that haven’t been followed. And to me that is completely unacceptable.” Jolynn Minnaar

A Village in the Crosshairs

There is no way around it. A village without water will die.

Several years ago, our village dug 35 wells before finding two that would give us reliable water. Good water is hard to find in hydrocarbon-rich Albert County.

Now, we understand Hillsborough sits on a significant oil reservoir. Below the oil lies what a Corridor Resources spokesman calls “the largest known shale gas play in North America by an order of magnitude.”

HillsboroughmarshIt is called the Frederick Brook member, a shale play that extends from Memramcook,  Hillsborough and Stoney Creek, to Elgin and Sussex (the leases are split between Contact Exploration, Petroworth and Corridor Resources).

“In the shale gas world, I’m not aware of anything that comes remotely close to the Frederick Brook Shale, and that’s because of its thickness,” says Corridor’s geologist.

Well pads already surround Hillsborough on three sides. Some are for oil. Some are for the natural gas below the oil. The process for extraction is largely the same.

The oil and gas lies within what geologists call a ‘complex’ area. The faults running through the layers of rock look like a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe.  In the midst of this tic-tac-toe board, lies oil well ‘B55’.  It is situated about 1,500m or less from our municipal wells and close to private wells. B55 is a little over 1100m deep. Our village water well taps into the aquifer at 200m.

But don’t worry, says our government. In assessing the lay of the land, they have determined if a spill or other accident occurs, the natural flow of contaminants would be away from the village water wells and toward the river.

Really? Well, that also means spills would flow toward the homes with private water wells.

Understand this: I am no eco-terrorist or fear-mongerer. I do not insult or intimidate people who disagree with my viewpoint. I’m all for employment and prosperity in New Brunswick. Who isn’t?

I’m simply a homeowner and self-employed writer. My work ebbs and flows like the Fundy tide. I have no pension. My home is my safety net.

I live and work here in Hillsborough. We have wetlands and wildlife. We’re friendly folk who hike and bike the village trails, and appreciate fresh air, and a dark sky filled with stars. We have easy access to forests, lakes and streams. You get the picture.

hillsboroughSo all this concerns me. Deeply. It concerns my neighbours. It concerns our village council and our local businesses. It also concerns doctors, geologists, scientists, engineers, economists, lawyers, and everyday people all over this province who have spent thousands of unpaid hours researching independent studies on the issue and giving people the information our government should be providing.

You might think that Hillsborough would have a soft spot for oil and gas exploration. We lie a few minutes from Stoney Creek, New Brunswick’s first developed oilfield. But you’d be wrong. I’ve toured the Stoney Creek oilfield. I know people who experience gas fumes and headaches from wells that currently operate in that area. Others have strange illnesses.

Many private wells in Stoney Creek have bad water quality and quantity. Is this due to 100 years of oil drilling or because of natural contaminants? We don’t know. No one mapped aquifers or tested water back then. No one is mapping our aquifers now.

Proponents of industry say we do things better here in Canada. That we have more ‘stringent and rigorous rules’. Rules that call for setback of 250m from private homes and 500m from schools, yet a long-term health study from the University of Colorado found highly elevated risks for cancer and other diseases for those living within 750m of a gas well and a Duke University study found highly increased risk of methane contamination of water wells within 1km of gas wells.

Stringent? Rigorous?

I’ve toured Penobsquis too, and smelled fumes from the gas wells on the flood plains of the Kennebecasis River.

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Wellpads in Penobsquis, NB

I’ve seen how close well pads are to each other and homes. I’ve talked with residents who spent $15,000 and 25,000 volunteer hours trying to resolve their water losses. Alone.

Ask them about the risks vs benefits. Ask them if the loss of water to 60 families was worth the 6 jobs the industry created.

And so I wonder what Hillsborough will look and smell like—what life will be like—if oil and gas development continues in Albert County.

The trouble is, our pastoral village lies in the crosshairs of an industry with a noxious reputation. And will be subjected to a process that no one can prove is safe.

In spring 2011 our province gave Contact Exploration the approval to bring into production up to 39 existing oil and gas wells in the Stoney Creek–Hillsborough area. Prior to releasing their new rules, the government approved the drilling of four more wells.

We have many unknowns: complex geology, a precarious water supply, the scale of future oil and gas development. Then there are the knowns: noise, pollution, truck traffic. The impact on property values, human health and well-being.

Recent research on the effects of shale gas development on property values shows that not only are properties devalued in the near vicinity of development, but also in neighbouring communities.

Our own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Eilish Cleary, expressed concerns for people living in close proximity to gas and oil development, and last fall made 30 recommendations necessary to prevent or mitigate impact on public health. Our government, however, has not yet issued a formal response or proposed action plan for these recommendations, and, in fact, only released it after public pressure to do so.

And then there is the economic well-being. We’re told New Brunswick stands to gain hundreds of jobs and billions in revenues from shale gas development. Perhaps you are like me and find this rather vague and loosey-goosey.

brody_cropA Cornell University team recently studied Pennsylvanian towns affected by oil and gas developments. Their report found that jobs were short-term and low-paying, when the drill teams moved on, those towns are economically worse off than before. I have yet to find a Happy Frack Town.

(Caveat: three government officials have spoken about talking to a happy PA organic farmer with gas wells on his property. One happy farmer. If they truly wanted to understand the impacts, perhaps they should have been talking to the unhappy ones.)

So, perhaps you might excuse me, instead of accuse me, for opposing oil and gas development in my area and in my province. Perhaps, instead of thinking of me a protestor, you may think of me as a protector.

Because it is not just my backyard.  This is a small province. It is actually your backyard too.

© copyright 2013 Deborah Carr

What will it take?

David sits cross-legged in the rocking chair opposite me, slender fingers clasped in his lap. He’s a tall man, lean and quiet. I have not known him long, but I can tell you that he is persistent and consistent with what he believes. He is watchful, observant…a good listener.

He regards me quietly for a moment or two…long enough for me to wonder why he has come.

“So,” he finally says, “what do you think it will take to win this?”

He is speaking of the shale gas war, of course.

{war: noun, often attributive \ˈwr\  –  a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end}

A war of profit and power vs people…one that often keeps me awake at night and compels volunteers all over this province to devote time, personal finances, energy and emotion to repeating the message:

These things we value…they are not for sale.
Our health…can never be for sale.

Extra-ordinary people…warriors, really…

notforsaleI patter on for awhile about demonstrations to discourage the industry, and the power of the public voice, but eventually run out of words.

“What about you? What do you think it will take?”

This is his cue. The reason he came. He begins slowly, telling me about the legal action his group of volunteers – NB Water First – wishes to pursue.

Their plan is to file an ‘quia timet’ injunction against the Province because there is a future probability of injury to our rights and interests if unconventional shale gas drilling using horizontal hydro-fracking is pursued.

Within environmental law,  the ‘Precautionary Principle’ states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an act.

I don’t understand much about the legalities of such things, so he answers my questions clearly and simply. It seems that they have thought through all the angles.

 “What if you are not successful?” I ask.

“Then, at least, the facts will have been thoroughly reported in the media, which has not happened so far.”

I stop and consider for a moment:  ordinary New Brunswickers must take our government to court to protect our health, communities and environment. Of course, this would be national news.

For more than two years, David’s group and others have worked to raise $30,000 of their first level goal of $100,000. They expect the action to require $500,000 total.

The challenge, David says, is getting people to part with their money. It would only take 5000 people who are willing to spend $100 to protect their health and environment.

This is our best chance of stopping this industry.

‘How many hours have you put into this already?’ he asks me.

Too many. But still, not enough.Thousands of hours have been spent by hundreds of people researching, making presentations, planning, traveling, attending meetings and teleconferences, writing letters, talking to people, sharing information.

“If you could spend $100 to have this thing resolved without having to do anything else, would that be worth it to you?”

In a heartbeat.  I’m ready to write a cheque.

David tells me that his group has held yard sales, plant sales, an art sale. The plant sale, he says worked the best – people love plants – they raised $1200, whereas the yard sale only netted them $850.

artsalePlant sales. Yard sales.

I feel a lump rise in my throat.

This small group of committed people have been selling signs and holding yard sales for two years to raise the funds to protect my right to say ‘No’ to something that threatens my heath, my home, my community,  my future.

Meanwhile, the people we pay to protect those same rights are blithely choosing industry over the voice of the people who have the most to lose. And thinking themselves noble in the defense of jobs and economy.  Bringing New Brunswickers back home.

To what?  For what?

{noble:  adjective \ˈnō-bəl\ – of excellent character, having lofty ideals, courageous spirit.}

Noble is when people, who have everything to lose, donate their own hard-earned income and precious time, holding yard sales to raise the funds to protect the future of New Brunswick.

So this is why we continue to oppose gas and oil development in NB…because there are many people all over this province who, like David, are putting their heart and soul and finances into protecting this land for us all.

So the question is this:  Will you help us?fracking_health