REXTON, N.B. – A day after an anti-fracking protest here turned violent, with 40 people arrested and torched police cars sending clouds of black smoke into the air, aboriginal protesters huddled around a fire pit at the site of their anti-fracking encampment, sipping coffee and discussing their next move. A tense calm hung in the air while, down the road, local high school students gawked at the row of burnt-out vehicles towed to a vacant lot.
Canada's national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, charged into the area early Thursday, hoping to break up a weekslong protest where demonstrators blocked the roads, denying SWN Resources Canada, a Texas-based shale gas company, the chance to retrieve its testing equipment from a storage compound.
Of the people arrested, nine are expected to spend the weekend in jail. Police used pepper-spray and rubber bullets to enforce the court-ordered injunction, according to protesters, while officers seized a number of weapons, including guns, explosive devices and knives.
The conflict, whose dramatic images spread quickly through social media, has heightened tensions between New Brunswick's First Nations and the provincial government, and thrust the debate over the environmental impact of shale gas exploration back into the spotlight.
It has also led to protests elsewhere in Canada, with the First Nation group Idle No More saying that at least 40 events were planned throughout the country. It also prompted calls for calm from Canada's justice minister, Peter MacKay.
On Friday, demonstrators at the encampment said the battle was far from over.
John Levi, a leading protester who is known as the war chief for the Elsipogtog First Nation, which is located a 15-minute drive from the encampment, said protesters would track down the equipment and block the company from testing for shale gas reserves elsewhere.
“If they're in New Brunswick, we'll find them,” said Levi, expressing concern about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracking on the water system and soil.
While Levi and many protesters are wholly opposed to shale gas development, other First Nations leaders in the province have expressed openness to the possibility if they have a greater stake in the process and more environmental precautions are taken.
Meanwhile, even though workers for SWN Resources Canada succeeded in taking out the equipment on Thursday, protesters showed no signs of clearing out of the area.