A tale of two shale gas protests

Quicksand for us; Grand Poupon for them

What shall we name it as midsummer slides effortlessly along the briny beaches of New Brunswick’s cottage country. The “kerfuffle in Kent County”? The “excitation of Elsipogtog”?  Surely, nothing so provocative as the “battle of Balcombe”. Besides, that name is already taken.

No one does controversy quite like the Brits. Compared to them, Americans are punters. Canadians are merely quaint. So it is with regular rounds of ministerial expense scandals. So it is with steamy love affairs, illicitly conducted in high office. So it is with shale gas exploration.

The battle of Balcombe, a town in West Sussex, roughly 75 kilometers due south of London, provides something for everyone. The controversy, says one recent “shortcuts” blog post in the online version of The Guardian, “has pitched police trying to ensure energy company Cuadrilla can drill an exploratory well outside (the) pretty, prosperous and hitherto sleepy. . .village against a coalition of protesters who fear the operation will lead to full-scale oil or gas production through the controversial process of fracking. The opposition alliance are a disparate bunch.”

There are, of course, the usual suspects, such as Friends of the Earth and the anti-gas groups Frack Off, Frack Free Sussex, Gas Field Free Sussex and No Fracking in East Kent. And there are the celebrities, including Bianca Jagger (ex-wife of Mick), Natalie Hynde (daughter of another rock icon, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders).

There is Simon Medhurst, the well-known activist about whom the Guardian writes, “also known as ‘Sitting Bull’, (he) earlier this year successfully delayed work on a new Bexhill-to-Hastings link road by tunnelling beneath it.”

And there is Marina Pepper (nee Baker), an East Sussex local councillor who was once a tabloid model, a Playboy Playmate of the Month for March 1987, actor and journalist. A Wikipedia entry says the ardent environmentalist “is known today as a practising Wiccan and author of several children’s books on Witchcraft, including Spells for the Witch in You; Spells for Teenage Witches: Get Your Way with Magical Power; Marina Baker’s Teenage Survival Guide; and Spells for Cats (the last was published under the name Daisy Pepper). In 2001, she worked as a magic consultant for a BBC documentary about the Harry Potter books.”

All of whom are dead, set against even the possibility of a shale gas industry in their green and pleasant land, a posture which moves the Telegraph to testily observe, “Unfortunately, the Balcombe protest against proposed exploratory drilling in the Weald has been hijacked by professional Swampy-style eco-warriors who would happily return the nation’s economy to pre-industrial times.”

In contrast, New Brunswick’s organized opposition to shale gas development, while vigorous and vocal, has been largely lacking in hot-headed celebrities – at least, on the ground. Where are the David Suzuki sand Margaret Atwoods, chaining themselves to trees felled to block the progress of seismic testing trucks?

Yes, police have made arrests. And yes, there have been incidents that appear very much like orchestrated vandalism. Still, the mood seems to have changed of late. It has become more reflective.

“The biggest thing that came out of this was we got to unite the people,” John Levi, an Elsipogtog warrior chief for the protestors in Kent County, told the Moncton Times & Transcript not long ago. “Like the non-natives, like the Acadians, the English, Metis, all the cultures, so that’s the biggest accomplishment here I see.”

Added Wendall Nicholas, a peacekeeper in the anti-gas movement, “Each time we’ve done our best to use our utmost respect and patience to see a peaceful outcome. We work in a very respectful and patient manner –  whether it’s on a logging road in 40-degree heat or a telephone conversation.”

It’s no sure bet that SWN Resources, which has been the target of much of the protests, would agree. Still, they’re not saying one way or the other.

Nope, we Canadians just don’t controversy like the Brits. Maybe, that’s a good thing, after all.

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