Some of us have started to campaign against shale gas fracking around Ontario, Canada.
On May 19th, we had a rally outside of a North American shale gas conference at Holiday Inn Sarnia (which actually is located in Point Edward). At our protest, we focused on threats to water supplies from the toxic stew of fluids injected into fracking wells, as well as methane, radium, and other substances that can be let loose from around the shale rock that the gas is extracted from.
The shale gas conference was about profits that corporations could gain by securing U.S. gas exports for the petro-chemical industries in Sarnia-Lambton. On the Ontario side of the border, those arrangements basically would come down to keeping the Chemical Valley status quo going, with possible savings for the companies purchasing gas supplies from U.S. shale (at least until Ontario shale gas is made available).
Industry representatives travelled out to their closed-door conference from more than one province, and from multiple U.S. states. They came in to support and extend the hype about fracking ‘benefits without trade-offs.’ This spin was about imports from states around West Virginia, but the same points will be made about Ontario fracking, arranged by the same industry players, who will try to profit from shale gas here. Yet, fracking could be done in Ontario to export gas to the United States, or to the Alberta tar sands.
Outside the North American shale conference, non-indigenous activists like myself protested alongside residents of Aamjiwnaang and Kettle Point. The shale gas exploration in this province could cut across six native territories. Yet, indigenous sovereignty has not even been acknowledged — let alone respected — as such plans have been publicly announced. The Calgary company outlining these plans also clearly has not had any dialogue with these native groups, even as their territories are targetted for exploration.
Our rally was very close to the Michigan border, and two activists from Michigan were able to join us. The fracking industry already is active in Michigan, and a Don’t Frack Michigan campaign is being organized in response to the extraction impacts and threats there.
The North American shale gas conference protest was organized through S.H.A.M.E. — a Sarnia activist network that usually focuses on Chemical Valley impacts around that area (including one major incident with Imperial Oil, around the time of the conference.)
Kathy made the banners that we had at the rally. She also made the “No off-site impact?” sign, for a 2009 rally about the Chemical Valley releases.
Stop Fracking Ontario web campaigning pages were set up as we were preparing for the Point Edward protest.
Outside of the industry conference, we stood our ground for eight hours, despite the forecasts for downpour and lightning — which didn’t end up happening. Throughout the day, we had at least one banner up, facing the entrance to the Holiday Inn.
Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.) officers had told us to stay off of the Inn’s property, before we had even started protesting. Two plain-clothed officers were at the rally site around 7:30am to greet us, and to invite us to phone them if we wanted to talk, over the course of the day. It seemed as though these officers were planning to stay around to watch us from somewhere nearby.
These O.P.P officers first visited us the day before the shale gas conference. The officers had contacted us to ask about and negotiate the conditions of our protest. They presented themselves as friendly mediators who were there to prevent friction between us and other police.
We may not have planned out our rally any differently if these officers hadn’t contacted us, however.
The shale gas conference agenda may or may not have been adjusted in response to our efforts, but we probably will never know, either way. What is evident is that the head conference organizer responded to our rally plans by public claiming that environmental impacts from fracking would be discussed at the conference – which simply was not true. This industry spokesman also suggested that Ontario shale extraction would not be discussed at the conference; so we were asked to accept that they would be addressing environmental impacts from fracking in the United States, at a conference where they were concentrating on how to exploit U.S. shale gas in Sarnia-Lambton. The same industry supporters regularly deny Chemical Valley’s toxic impacts in the immediate area, so why would they address the more distant environmental impacts in Pennsylvania, and other U.S. states?
A conference representative eventually walked out to our protest to say that she was open to dialogue with us. But she actually just came out to promote fracking, and the industry partnerships that she helps to broker. She seemed somewhat taken aback by a critical response to her remarks about climate ‘benefits’ of shale gas — even though she only was presented with basic points about how we should recognize the relative severity of methane greenhouse gas impacts, while looking at more than shale gas burning as we address its climate impacts. It was obvious that she did not want to discuss any such meaningful questions.
Inside the Holiday Inn, the agenda left next to no time for dialogue. There was almost no one in there who had any critical questions to raise, anyway, and such questions — about environmental impacts, and so on — usually were avoided when they were posed. At the protest outside, some of us received a second-hand account of those conference proceedings.
A follow-up rally against fracking now has been called in London, Ontario. Sarnia activists plan to continue opposing fracking, and it seems that there is growing concern about plans for fracking around Ontario. The effectiveness of any campaigning that people in Ontario may take up remains to be seen, but we at least are off to a good start.