Gaspé wants Quebec government to intervene; The Quebec Superior Court agrees with Petrolia, says Gaspé municipality can’t protect its drinking water supplies from the oil and gas industry

Quebec opens Anticosti to oil exploration by Sophie Cousineau, February 13, 2014, The Globe and Mail
The Quebec government is giving the go-ahead to oil exploration on Anticosti Island, with $190-million in exploratory work starting as early as this summer. Two exploration programs will dig wells using the controversial “fracking techniques” that the Parti Québécois government had put a halt to through a moratorium. The government will team up with two private consortiums and invest heavily in the projects through a state-owned enterprise, Ressources Québec. “For my government, promoting the energetic independence of Quebec is a priority,” Premier Pauline Marois said in a press conference in Montreal.

In the first case, Ressources Québec will team up with Pétrolia, Corridor Resources and French group Maurel & Prom. It will provide close to $57-million of funds needed for the $100-million program, the balance coming from Maurel & Prom. It will hold a 35 per cent in the joint venture, and the other partners will each hold a 21.7 per cent stake. In the second case, Ressources Québec will partner with Junex and another company that has yet to be identified in a $90-million exploration project. The Quebec government’s stake will reach 80 per cent in the joint venture that has yet to be formalized.

The minority Parti Québécois, which is expected to trigger elections in the coming weeks, is dangling the prospect of $45-billion in royalties, profits and taxes over 30 years, should the exploration programs be successful. The money will be taken out off a $750-million fund that the Quebec government created in 2012 to invest in the province’s natural resources. Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau said should extracting oil out of Anticosti be economically feasible, the government would take in 61 cents in royalties and taxes for each dollar in petroleum revenue. [Emphasis added]

Pétrolia wins right to drill near Gaspé by Bertand Marotte, February 11, 2014, The Globe and Mail
Junior exploration company Pétrolia Inc. has won a court battle to strike down a bylaw adopted by the town of Gaspé that bans oil drilling too close to the municipality’s drinking water supply. The Superior Court of Quebec released a decision on Monday that rules the municipality improperly ventured onto provincial jurisdictional ground in December 2012 by adopting the bylaw. Quebec City-based Pétrolia went to court arguing it had all the necessary provincial exploration permits for drilling on its potentially rich Haldimand site near Gaspé. The bylaw prohibited the introduction into the ground of any substance that could have an impact on the quality of underground or surface water within 10 kilometres from a municipal surface water site.

“The judgment confirms the primacy of the Government of Quebec’s jurisdiction over natural resource exploration regulation,” Pétrolia said in a news release Tuesday. The company said it plans to await the release of the hydrogeological study commissioned by the provincial government before resuming drilling. “We are pleased with Judge [Benoît] Moulin’s decision. Pending the publication of the hydrogeological study scheduled for March, we will continue to work with the municipality and the Gaspé community in order to keep everyone informed of our activities with regard to health, safety and environmental compliance issues,” said Pétrolia chief executive Myron Tétreault. “Our goal is to resume work in accordance with our permits and their corresponding timelines.”

Municipal authorities said they want to study the court decision before commenting further on it. “The priority for us has always been the protection of residents’ drinking water,” Gaspé mayor Daniel Côté said in a news release after the ruling. “Therefore, more than ever, we would like the Quebec government to react quickly and we ask that it move rapidly to adopt the water-protection law it has been promising for more than a year.”
[Emphasis added]

Gaspé wants Quebec to intervene, Court agrees with Petrolia who will be able to continue drilling Translation February 13, 2014 by Les Ami(s) du Richelieu of Gaspé demande l’intervention de Québec, Un tribunal donne raison à la pétrolière, qui pourra poursuivre ses forages … in Le Devoir, February 12, 2014
The mayor is now asking Quebec to intervene because the province is still not taking any decisions about this question. In a 42 page judgment, judge Benoît Moulin states that the bylaw that was voted in December 2012 that required “separation distances” between drilling sites and drinking water sources oversteps the municipality’s authority. The bylaw bans the adding underground, “by drilling or any other physical process”, all substance susceptible of “altering the groundwater or surface water quality that is used for human or animal consumption”. This had the effect of stopping cold the Haldimand no 4 drilling project that Petrolia wanted to start, a measure qualified as abusive by the oil company.

The judge recognizes that the completion of a drilling operation requires the use of a “fluid” made out of water and other products, like “petroleum distillate”. Even though this is susceptible of “altering drinking water”, it is necessary to use it in order to respect current regulations as per the Mining Law. It is this legislation that oversees hydrocarbon exploration right now until the passing of a specific law for fossil fuels. And the Mining Law has precedence over the bylaw voted in by Gaspé.

Daniel Côté, Gaspé Mayor, said Tuesday that the Town will take the time to analyse the judgement before commenting. But that does not change the fact that it’s up to the Quebec Government to act, he insists. “It is obvious, now more than ever, that it’s up to the Quebec Governement to take position and adopt a provincial regulation to protect drinking water. We press again the Quebec Governement to act urgently.” Mr Côté feels that time is running short, now more than ever, because of rumors of an election. … The Gaspé Mayor reminds us that Quebec presented in May 2013 a first draft of it’s regulation on drinking water protection. But 7 months later, nothing concrete has been announced. 

Moreover, an hydro geological study ordered by Quebec for the Gaspé region should be ready by the end of March. Petrolia had expressed it’s intention of waiting it’s publication “before taking up the drilling again”.  … This drilling must get to be about 1000 meters deep in total. From 500 meters, it must turn gradually to an horizontal trajectory. This new drilling must permit to cross underground where there has already been 2 wells drilled in 2006 and 2009. The cost of drilling is estimated at $3 million.

The Haldimand 4 well site is 350 meters from the nearest home, and within a radius of 2 kilometers of about 400 homes that do not have municipal aqueduct connections. These homes take their drinking water from underground wells.

Drilling in Gaspé: the Court agrees with Petrolia Translation by Les Ami(s) du Richelieu, February 11, 2014, of Jugement favorable à Pétrolia : Gaspé interpelle le gouvernement by
The Quebec Superior Court rules in favor of Petrolia and invalidates the Gaspé municipal regulation on minimum distance between drilling sites and drinking water sources. The Court rules that the regulation voted in by the municipality is inapplicable. Petrolia had pleaded that only the Quebec State had the power to oversee an oil drilling site. Gaspé, on the other hand, declared that the Law on municipal jurisdiction gave it the authority to legislate in environmental matters. The town of Gaspé hopes that Quebec will intervene, but specified that it will not comment on the judgement before having taken the time to study it with their lawyers. The Minister responsible for the Gaspésie region, Gaétan Lelièvre, also said that he will study the judgement in detail before commenting.

The regulation in question, voted in on December 22 2012, established the minimum distance between drilling sites and drinking water sources in the territory of the Town of Gaspé. The companies then no longer had the right to inject substances in the ground at less than 2 kilometers from an artesian well. The municipal administration had hoped to keep at a minimum the possibility of contamination of drinking water sources. The hearings ended January 10 at the Percé courthouse. The ruling was very much anticipated in Gaspé, but also elsewhere in the province, because 70 municipalities have adopted a similar regulation since then. [Emphasis added]

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