Special Series: Twelve Canadians

Fear & Loathing in Canadian Frackland

By David Kattenburg

I knew little about this most notorious of earth gouging techniques when I journeyed to New Brunswick last summer to attend a fracking “Day of Protest” in Kent County, between Moncton and Miramichi — Elsipogtog First Nations territory — but I was familiar with the horror stories.

Half an hour out of Moncton, beside Thompson’s General Store in Bass River, at the intersection of Highways 116 and 490, I waited for my rendezvous to appear — Conservation Council of New Brunswick water campaigner Stephanie Merrill. As I sat in my red rental car, beneath a blistering sun, a steady stream of RCMP patrol cars drove back and forth.

Up the road, in a green opening of the woods on Elsipogtog land, some five hundred folks gathered for a day of frack talk, declarations, music, food and celebration.


Everyone was there: Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Acadians, Anglos, expatriot Yanks. I ran into an acquaintance, someone I hadn’t seen for years, who’d hitchhiked here from Cross Lake, Manitoba of all places. Listen to the hubbub above.

Afterwards, Stephanie and I set out to find a First Nations camp. The day was hot and crisscrossed rural roads dusty, out in the middle of the woods. RCMP officers along the way offered imprecise directions, whilst requesting our papers for scrupulous examination, and glimpses of audio equipment, none of this recorded.

Lots of developments since then. More protests; further mass arrests by the RCMP. Follow New Brunswick fracking news here and here … and here.

In late July, barely back home in Winnipeg, I headed out again, to Vancouver this time. There, on the edge of English Bay, in the crowded basement of a Kitsilano house, I met up with B.C. Tap Water Alliance founder Will Koop. Watershed Sentinel publisher Delores Broten had suggested I speak with Koop, whose fracking research the Sentinel covers (stand by for a Twelve Canadians episode on Delores and her Watershed Sentinel).

Listen to Koop’s concise description of modern fracking: an “experimental” technique whereby otherwise inaccessible shale gas and oil are mobilized under brutal physical and chemical assault, along horizontal shafts as long as 5 kilometers, using vast amounts of fresh water.

Seemingly free of regulation, frackers need not disclose the composition of the “fluids” they use to bust and smash increasingly scarce fossil fuels out of the ground, Koop explains. Many of these ingredients are either highly toxic or carcinogenic or both.

One of Will Koop’s interesting comments, regarding the Lac Megantic disaster, which had occurred two weeks earlier: Those rail cars were carrying fracked crude oil from the Bakken. The unusual explosive power of the oil shipment may have been linked to fracking chemicals, Koop suggested. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say.

No one knows better how troublesome frack emissions can be than people living in the vicinity of their release, in rural spots some refer to as “sacrifice zones.” Howard and Nielle Hawkwood are among these.

Howard and Nielle raise cattle just outside Airdrie, Alberta, a half hour drive north of Calgary. This year something seems to have sickened and killed a tenth of their herd, including one 4 year-old cow found dead on the day of the above audio recording (see photo below).

Nielle has lost her hair, as have a dozen other women and girls in the area, Nielle reports. Listen to Howard and Nielle’s story here, and to a bit of Rosebud, Alberta resident Jessica Ernst — the subject of an upcoming Twelve Canadians episode. Jessica is that relentless Albertan who’s taking the Encana Corporation, Alberta’s Energy Regulator and the Province of Alberta to court.

Twelve Canadians is a multimedia series about women and men who’ve been devoting their lives to social, economic or environmental justice, and to the healthy development of Canadian communities and the world. Each episode examines a specific issue or situation, through the voices of people who’ve been active in that area. Lots more than just twelve. Thanks to the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Autoworkers Union for their generous support. Thanks as well to CKUW, University of Winnipeg Radio, and to CFUV at the University of Victoria.

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