UNIDENTIFIED: Stopping Penn West, asking them to leave.
SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN PRODUCER: On Friday, January 3, in Alberta, Canada, indigenous protesters filed a notice of appeal against Penn West Petroleum in their continued fight against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Last month, a judge’s injunction order against members of Lubicon Lake Nation shut down their three-week-long blockade, which began in late November 2013 on a drilling site of the oil and gas giant.
CYNTHIA TOMLINSON, LUBICON LAKE NATION CITIZEN: They just kind of went ahead and ordered this really broad order that has implications for our rights.
TAJVIDI: The Real News spoke to Lubicon land and negotiations adviser Cynthia Tomlinson, who said that the community’s anti-fracking protests are far from over.
TOMLINSON: Discussions around what to do next, they’ve been continuing on and on. There’s no way that they’re going to stop, but they’re just trying to find other ways and other things that they can do to get their point across.
Some of the things that they’ve discussed is rallies, looking at other industry players in our area. There’s a few of them that have permission from the Alberta government to develop the area.
TAJVIDI: Penn West has been actively engaging in fracking projects on what the community considers to be traditional Lubicon Cree land. The extraction process injects millions of gallons of water, chemicals, and sand into shale and rock formations at high pressures to help draw out fuel.
The land on which this fracking activity occurs has been subject to heated dispute, as Lubicon First Nation has never signed it away to the Canadian Government.
The energy industry maintains that in addition to contributing immense “economic growth and job creation” in Canada, that fracking does not pose health and environmental hazards as opponents claim. Supporters of fracking have argued that protesters are exaggerating the hazards of the process, and they attempt to reinforce the idea that:
“Fracking is a relatively straightforward combination of two pre-existing technologies … the liquid used in fracking is around 99% water and sand, with a smattering of fairly common chemicals.
“While some claim that fracking poses a risk to groundwater … experience suggests those risks are very low.”
Though specifics about the fracking chemicals used remain as industry secrets, their dangers to the environment and communities surrounding drilling sites have been well documented. And despite competing data on fracking and energy development projects, including tar sands, indigenous communities maintain that industrial practices are taking a concrete toll on their health.
MELINA LABOUCAN MASSIMO, LUBICON CREE FIRST NATION: What we’re seeing happening to the communities around these projects are elevated rates of cancers, as well as elevated rates of respiratory illnesses, like emphysema and asthma, because there’s air quality issues, there’s contamination to the water, destruction and complete fragmentation of the boreal forest, which is one of the last remaining intact forests in the world.
GARRETT TOMLINSON, COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR, LUBICON LAKE NATION: We’ve got lung cancers. We’ve had stomach cancers, ovarian cancer. Like, there’s all these different types of cancer that—again, it’s not something that we’ve seen in this community previously, and we don’t have any explanation as to why we’re seeing them now. All we know is that we’re seeing them now and we have all this development that’s happening simultaneously.
TAJVIDI: Penn West has drilled 60 wells in the area of Haig Lake alone, which is sacred for the indigenous community. Those wells are among the 2,600 oil and gas wells leased to corporations by Alberta. The province owns 69,000 shares in Penn West, which the Nasdaq stock exchange values at nearly $600,000.
TOMLINSON: I think it’s $14 billion in resources has been extracted out of the Lubicon territory. The Alberta government benefits, the royalties that they get plus the shares they own in Penn West. Penn West benefits by taking the oil, selling it, and then keeping the money.
TAJVIDI: The areas of Haig, Swan, and Buffalo Lake in northern Alberta have been subject to a shale exploration program, in which Penn West has invested around $95 million. According to their year-end financial report, the company saw gross revenues of $773 million in 2013.
Two days prior to the recent injunction, the Lubicon community experienced a short-lived victory when a Calgary judge ruled in favor of the First Nation protesters, allowing them to continue their blockade. Rare as the favourable ruling may have been, it afforded the community just an additional weekend of protest. While Penn West asked for a week-long injunction against the demonstrators, the judge granted one of six months.
TOMLINSON: The community came back that night once we heard the news. They were quite angry about it. This is our home, this is our land, and we’re not going anywhere. How is it that Penn West asked for seven days and the judge says, well, seven days is too little, let’s give you six months?
TAJVIDI: The immense corporate and governmental profit off of Lubicon territory is an important aspect of the community’s continued resistance. For more than 60 years, the Lubicon Lake Nation has struggled for recognition of their land rights in Alberta. In 1939, they were promised a reserve and still remain without a land rights settlement.
TOMLINSON: Well, the history of our nation is—it’s quite unique. There’s not many in Canada that have the same history. I mean, the Treaty 8—we’re in the Treaty 8 area, but we haven’t signed on to Treaty 8. In the 1930s, then we were told, okay, you guys are just in a separate group, you guys are going to get a reserve. Like, this has been going on for many, many years. For the most part, the community’s still the same. And we see the benefit that the oil companies get, the companies that come and go, while the community itself doesn’t really benefit. How is it that they can benefit and we don’t? When we try to stand up for ourselves, they say, well, no, you can’t stand up for yourself, we’re just going to come and take your resources, destroy your land, then we’re going to go.
You know, there may not be that many people here, but we’re still people and we still have rights.
TAJVIDI: Today, energy policy under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which has been committed to expanding the production of fossil fuel energy, exacerbates impacts on Lubicon and First Nations communities throughout Canada.
TOMLINSON: We definitely feel the effect of Harper’s policy. We watched when he got elected, and we watched everything that transpired from then on. So we were quite worried about what was that going to do with our title to the land, and the fact that we haven’t signed a treaty, how is that all going to relate when their main goal is to extract, extract, extract. If anyone dares question, you know, the Harper government or whatever their native policy is or the bills that they’ve passed, it doesn’t seem like they’re willing to listen to anyone.
The community itself is still very much in Third World conditions. There’s housing problems. There’s mold in our school. There’s so much wrong in the community that it’s time that there needs to be a change.
TAJVIDI: For The Real News Network, Shaghayegh Tajvidi.