Quebec Minister’s fracking comments worry Calgary companies

Quebec Minister’s fracking comments worry Calgary companies by Amanda Stephenson, with files from the Canadian Press, September 20, 2012, Calgary Herald
Calgary-based energy companies that own land in Quebec are hoping the new Parti Quebecois government will reconsider its position on hydraulic fracturing, in spite of statements made by that province’s new natural resources minister Thursday. Martine Ouellet, who made the remarks on her way into her first cabinet meeting — less than 24 hours after she was named to cabinet — said she doesn’t believe the method of extracting natural gas from shale, known as “fracking,” can ever be done safely. “I don’t foresee a day when there will be technology that will allow safe exploitation (of shale gas),” Ouellet said in Quebec City. “Our position is very clear: we want a complete moratorium, not only on exploitation but also on exploration of shale gas. We haven’t changed our minds.”

Andre Boisclair, a consultant for Calgary-based Questerre Energy Corp. — which has land prospective for shale gas in Quebec — said Ouellet’s call for a moratorium doesn’t have much impact on the industry. Under political pressure, the former Liberal government in Quebec had already halted shale gas exploration last year to conduct more studies on the ecological risks, which means companies have already had to suspend existing or planned operations in that province. The environmental review process started by the Liberals is not expected to be complete until the end of 2013. The big problem, Boisclair said, is Ouellet’s statement that she doesn’t believe shale gas exploitation will ever be safe. “That is obviously totally contrary to the facts. This declaration was totally unexpected to us and is totally inappropriate,” he said.

Boisclair said 30 per cent of the natural gas Quebec currently imports from Western Canada is already derived from unconventional extraction methods. He added Quebec’s oil and gas producers’ association will be issuing an official response Friday, in hopes of convincing Ouellet to reconsider her statements before the environmental assessment process goes any further. “It’s inappropriate for a Minister who intends to do a public consultation on shale gas to have already done her own conclusions on the file,” he said.

Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. also owns land in Quebec. Spokesperson Phoebe Buckland said in spite of Ouellet’s comments, the company remains hopeful the PQ government will continue the review process that has already been started, and come up with a legislative framework that would allow for sustainable shale gas development in Quebec. “Our hope would be that Quebec continue to consider the process, to study it,” Buckland said. “We would encourage Quebec to continue the process it has set out and continue to look at the options of developing shale gas in a way that would be safe and responsible.” Critics of hydraulic fracturing fear the method of unlocking natural gas from shale formations will create serious environmental problems — including the contamination of drinking water. The industry says extraction chemicals are only used in small doses and the chances of them seeping into the environment are very slim. Analysts, meanwhile, have called shale gas a potential economic game-changer for Quebec. The industry has boasted that the provincial government, which is saddled with public debt, would reap annual royalties of $1 billion from shale gas development.

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