Just days after a violent anti-fracking protest, New Brunswick Premier David Alward is pressing ahead with his vow to develop a shale gas industry, suggesting First Nations people will share the economic benefits.
But natives are not budging, arguing that their drinking water, which they fear the fracking process could contaminate, is not for sale.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Alward said he is hoping SWN Resources, the Texas energy company exploring for shale gas near Rexton, N.B., will resume its operations.
He made his comments as native protesters and Elsipogtog First Nation people cheered a New Brunswick judge's decision on Monday to lift an injunction that had ordered them to stop blocking trucks from leaving the SWN Resources compound to do seismic testing in the area.
The trucks were removed after the RCMP moved in on the native protesters' encampment last Thursday to enforce the injunction.
Some First Nations people interpreted the judge's decision as a message to SWN to leave the province. The Premier sees no correlation.
"It's very much one day at a time," Mr. Alward said of the resumption of SWN operations. "What we have to remember is that the current work that SWN is doing is exploration. That's what this phase has been."
SWN has not replied to requests to comment on when or if it will restart exploration.
"Certainly, my hope and my confidence is that we will see a shale gas industry develop in New Brunswick," Mr. Alward said. "We can't afford otherwise."
He said it would bring prosperity to the province and allow young people who have moved west for work to return home. The Premier repeated, too, that the industry would be developed safely and securely with environmental studies and consultations with First Nations.
"In the end, we are all collectively going to benefit as New Brunswickers, including First Nations, both as individuals but as communities as well," he said.
Support has poured in for Elsipogtog First Nation from other native groups across the country after Thurday's violence, in which police cars were torched, rocks thrown and protesters pepper-sprayed. Over the weekend, the native leadership there called for calm – and uneasy quiet has fallen, although protesters remain at the encampment.
It is not clear how the situation will be resolved.
"There is absolutely no way, absolutely no way [we] are going to agree to any form of fracking on or near our community," said Robert Levy, a band councillor and a former Elsipogtog chief. "They can offer everything. They can offer all the monies they want. We just can't take that chance of our water for our kids and our kids yet to be born."
Native groups are not the only ones concerned about fracking. Liberal opposition leader Brian Gallant is calling for a moratorium.
"I believe we need to press pause," Mr. Gallant said, noting that two studies of the industry are to be released in the next year. "The environment and health risks concern me more than the potential economic benefits excite me."
Mr. Gallant is meeting on Tuesday with native leaders. Mr. Alward said provincial and band officials are trying to work out a process to resolve the situation. He decided to skip a trade mission this week to Brazil with his Atlantic colleagues to deal with the situation.
With a report from the Canadian Press