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WIN! SWN Resources drops lawsuit against Kent County chapter activist Ann Pohl

Chapter activist Ann Pohl at anti-fracking protest, June 2013.

Houston-based SWN Resources has dropped its lawsuit against Harcourt, New Brunswick-based Kent County chapter activist Ann Pohl.

In November 2013, CBC reported, “SWN Resources Canada is suing 13 anti-shale gas protesters for damages it claims it has suffered as a result of protests in New Brunswick. The company has lost $650,000 since the protests began, according to an affidavit by Christopher Cainsford-Betty, a staff operations geophysicist for Southwestern Energy Company, the parent company of SWN. Every hour the machines and crews aren’t working costs a minimum of $5,000, according to the eight-page affidavit.”

The respondents included Pohl, Suzanne Patles, Rachel Daigle, Lorraine Clair, Jim Pictou, Seven Bernard, Jason Okay, Greg Cook, Wilhelmina (‘Willi’) Nolan, Melanie Elward, Jean-Sebastien Theriault, John Doe and Jane Doe.

Then on September 14 (almost four years later), Pohl received a letter from SWN saying they are prepared to drop the lawsuit against her.

How did this come about?

The Rules of the Court for NB are available online. These state that cases must progress or can be challenged for dismissal. So, last Spring Pohl contacted SWN’s lawyer Matt Hayes directly, asking that they proceed with the case, and begin by sending her the documents they intend to file with the court against her. Otherwise, she reminded them, they have delayed too long and must drop the claim against her. Pohl says this “put up or shut up” approach is available to any of her codefendants. She is willing to walk people through her steps if desired. It is quite possible to do this without a lawyer.

Although she would have been fine with going to court to fight it out, Pohl contends that the bullying of oil and gas companies against individuals fighting to protect the earth is far too common. She is happy to prove beyond a doubt that SWN had no case, and this was always simply a SLAPP suit — a civil action designed to prevent public participation in protecting the environment. Pohl says she will accept this offer to withdraw from SWN, and that she has other fish frying now.

For additional context, a quick look back at dates tells us:

June 2013 – SWN Resources begins seismic testing in New Brunswick.

October 2013 – the RCMP raids the anti-fracking blockade in Elsipogtog and dozens of people are arrested.

December 2013 – SWN announces they have completed seismic testing.

September 2014 – the people of New Brunswick vote out the pro-fracking Progressive Conservative government of David Alward.

December 2014 – the new provincial Liberal government of Brian Gallant legislates a moratorium on fracking.

March 2015 – SWN suspends their drilling program.

February 2016 – a provincially-appointed Commission finds that the five conditions set by the provincial government to allow fracking have not been met.

March 2016 – a coalition of business groups call on the provincial government to drop its moratorium on fracking.

March 2016 – SWN Resources closes its office in New Brunswick.

Fracking could still be a contentious issue in the next provincial election scheduled for September 24, 2018.

This past June, CBC reported, “Corporate Research Associates’ quarterly survey found 46 per cent of decided respondents would vote for the Liberals, while 33 per cent said they would vote PC. But CRA pollster Don Mills said that lead masks some troubling trends for the Liberal Party. Liberal support has been gradually shrinking over the last year and PC support has been inching up. The gap between the two parties has narrowed from 27 points in the May 2016 poll to 13 points in May 2017.” Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs is a supporter of fracking in the province.

The Council of Canadians remains vigilant on this issue.