‘A beautiful day’ for environmentalists, Shale gas, Gentilly both get the chop

‘A beautiful day’ for environmentalists, Shale gas, Gentilly both get the chop by Michelle Lalonde, September 20, 2012, The Montreal Gazette
“It’s a beautiful day,” said André Bélisle, president of the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA), which has been fighting the shale gas, nuclear and asbestos industries for years. “A lot of people say they are disillusioned with politicians because they don’t do what they say they will do, but here we are seeing the PQ doing exactly that; following through on all of these commitments they made during the campaign,” said Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre.

On her way into her first cabinet meeting Thursday morning, Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet told reporters she does not believe natural gas can ever be safely extracted from shale rock. She vowed to impose a complete moratorium on the industry until a new and more complete environmental assessment by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) is completed. The Liberal government already imposed a de facto moratorium on shale gas exploration and exploitation last March for the two and a half years it would take to do a Strategic Environmental Assessment on the issue. That assessment was to be completed by November 2013. Now it looks like a full BAPE review will be ordered, one that will include a look at alternatives to shale gas exploitation.

The new minister’s position is “frustrating” to Michael Binnion, president of Questerre, a company that has invested about $200 million with its partner Talisman in shale gas exploration projects in Quebec with “no return to date.” “We’ve already had a BAPE review, not a full one, but we worked and cooperated with that process. The BAPE recommended a Strategic Environmental Assessment and we are co-operating with that, and now this would be our third environmental review of natural gas development in Quebec so it seems likely the decision would be kicked down the road even further.” He said slowing down development of shale gas in Quebec is only benefiting producers in Western Canada and the U.S., from which Quebec is purchasing natural gas.

But Ouellet seems to be listening to the hundreds of mostly rural Quebecers who showed up at a series of information sessions last December and said they are concerned about the threat shale gas drilling poses to their drinking water, air quality and quality of life.

Ouellet, as the PQ’s spokesperson on shale gas before the election, has visited communities in Pennsylvania where shale gas drilling has caused well-publicized problems. As a former president of the water protection group Eau Secours!, Ouellet is considered a very green choice for Natural Resources Minister, although she is also an engineer who worked for Hydro-Québec before entering politics. But the biggest coup for the environmental movement is Quebec’s new environment minister, Daniel Breton, founder and until recently president of Groupe Maître chez nous 21e siècle, a group that specializes in energy and transportation issues. Breton is also a former director of the AQLPA, and a co-founder of Quebec’s Green Party. And Breton’s deputy in the environment department will be Scott McKay, a former Montreal city councillor who lead Quebec’s Green Party from 2006 to 2008 and has also been active with the AQLPA. [Emphasis added]

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