Lubicon Cree Plan Second Roadblock to Fracking Site

Lubicon blockade stays put, gathers supplies as oil company moves in

by Meagan Wohlberg / Northern Journal

Lubicon Lake Nation protesters are looking to block a second road leading to the Penn West Petroleum fracking site on their traditional territory.

Lubicon Lake Nation protesters are looking to block a second road leading to the Penn West Petroleum fracking site on their traditional territory.

Winter weather has done little to shake the resolve of Lubicon Lake Nation protesters going into their fourth week of blockading an access road to an oil company’s fracking site on their traditional territory, with those on the frontlines now looking to block a second road.

A group led by Chief of the Lubicon Lake Nation, Bernard Ominayak, began peacefully occupying a road leading to a site near Haig Lake in northwestern Alberta on Nov. 26 after Penn West Petroleum Ltd. began moving fracking equipment and personnel in without notice, according to the First Nation.

Ominayak said protesters are concerned with the “irreparable” damage oil and gas development has had on Lubicon lands and the abilities of members to exercise their inherent rights, without financial benefit to the people.

Lubicon communications coordinator Garrett Tomlinson said the growing group of protesters has decided unanimously that no one is moving until the company addresses their concerns.

“Ultimately they want to be properly engaged. They want the company to come out and respect their land and jurisdiction, and at least address their concerns and not just ignore them and try and move on with this puppet council that the government’s set up,” he said.

First Nation divided

Penn West is currently in discussions with the Lubicon’s other government, headed by Chief Billy Joe Laboucan – a council criticized by Ominayak’s group as being pro-industry and put in place by the federal government.

The First Nation formally split in the mid-’90s, with Laboucan’s band looking to secure a land claim settlement with the federal government to boost living conditions in the community of Little Buffalo. That band was formally recognized by the provincial and federal governments following an election in February 2013.

Though Penn West met with Ominayak’s government – elected separately in May of this year – in late November, the company refused to halt production, sparking the first roadblock. There have been no meetings since.Greg Moffatt, manager of stakeholder relations for Penn West, said the company has followed all the rules in obtaining access to the blocked site, where it had planned to build a road and well pad for a drilling operation.

“We have the authorization of the recognized leadership for the work to be conducted. We followed all of the applicable regulations and requirements established by the provincial government to get approval for the work,” he said, adding that the company also dialogued with the Lubicon Lake Nation about its work plans over the course of the year until the blockade began.

Prior to this year’s elections in the Lubicon community, where both Ominayak and Laboucan won in separate elections, Moffatt said Penn West had drilled and completed over 60 wells without environmental incident and with the participation of the Lubicon Nation, whose approved contractors and members were employed in the operations.

“The dispute, from our perspective, is really about leadership in the community and an unresolved land claim,” Moffatt said.

Blockade planned for second Penn West site

Moffatt said the company has other sites in the vicinity and continues to do work there.

Protesters on the frontlines say they are aware of the other leases and recently heard Penn West attempting to move equipment and personnel into a site approximately 2 km south of the blockade in the middle of the night.

According to councillor Dwight Gladue, protesters are now planning to block that access point as well.

In a statement of claim filed Dec. 1, Ominayak argued that the Lubicon Nation never entered into treaty with Canada and that leases issued to Penn West are thus null and void. The claim demands an injunction halting work until issues are resolved.

According to Moffatt, Penn West is also planning to file an injunction through the courts to remove the blockade.

“We were looking for the government to take action under the Public Lands Act to restore our access to the site, and they haven’t moved as quickly as we had hoped. Penn West will be filing an application with the courts to get an injunction against the blockade,” he said.Blockade growing, still peaceful

Tomlinson said those engaged in the 24/7 blockade are now working in shifts to get a break from the cold and see their families, and are receiving caravans of supplies from outside the community. They now have a fully fledged camp set up, complete with tents, a large canvas shelter and a school bus, as opposed to a line of trucks.

A social media campaign is asking for everything from winter clothing to fuel, food and water.

“It’s turned into quite the traffic jam. Even if all the people left, there’d be some serious deconstruction for the oil company to go in and try to take everything out,” Tomlinson said.

Security from Penn West park their vehicles at the blockade from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in a silent face off with protesters holding the road in check round the clock.

“There haven’t been any confrontations. Their security personnel come and sit at one end of the road and our guys obviously aren’t moving, and that’s pretty well where they leave it,” Tomlinson said, adding that there have not been any more incidents of the blockade being “run at” by Penn West equipment, as was recorded on video by Lubicon protesters in the first days of the blockade.

Members of the Peace River RCMP detachment have made frequent visits to the road block site, taking photos and licence plate numbers.

“They continue to come out and apprise themselves of the situation and they’ve indicated they’re doing it now just to ensure they have an accurate headcount in case of any eventualities,” Tomlinson said.

According to Tomlinson, the Lubicon have been at the receiving end of numerous messages of support from across the country, including from the Council of Canadians and the Six Nations Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. He said the nation is in the process of touching base with old alliances from the 1980s, when blockades against oil and gas development were prominent on Lubicon territory.

“Some of those alliances are being activated again and we’ll see what that turns into,” he said.

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