Several months ago I posted an article entitled “EIA in Shale Gas Extraction and Hydraulic Fracturing: What the Frack?!” in which I explored some of the controversy and history of legislation behind hydraulic fracturing and the shale gas industry. Notably, I mentioned the de facto moratorium placed on shale gas exploration in Quebec by the former Liberal government in March 2011. This was in response to widespread public concern over the effects of shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing on groundwater quality. Since then, a minority Parti Quebecois (PQ) government headed by Pauline Marois has come into power. This article is intended to provide an update on the moratorium on shale gas development in Quebec.
Part of the PQ government’s campaign platform was to uphold the shale gas moratorium imposed by its predecessor. In early February 2013, Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet announced legislation to ban exploration along the St. Lawrence Valley and suspend any exploration already in progress, at least until the completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) mandated by the Liberals under the initial moratorium, and formal industry regulations are set up and implemented (The Globe and Mail, 2013).
Although formalizing the moratorium seems to be a step in the right direction, restricting it to the densely populated region around the St. Lawrence River may reflect more the government’s concern for public opinion than its regard for the safety of the environment as energy-rich deposits in sparsely populated areas could be left open to development.
The PQ also transferred responsibility for conducting the SEA to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environment (BAPE), the province’s environmental assessment board. That responsibility was originally held by the Strategic Environmental Assessment Committee on Shale Gas, created following the March 2011 recommendations of the BAPE, which led to the moratorium in the first place (Government of Quebec, 2013).
The SEA implementation plan authored by the committee can be found here: http://ees-gazdeschiste.gouv.qc.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/plan-de-realisation-version-finale-2-avril-2012-ANGLAIS.pdf (Strategic Environmental Assessment Committee on Shale Gas, 2012).
According to Mr. Blanchet, a total of 78 studies related to the exploration and extraction of shale gas will be completed by the committee by the end of 2013. He has ordered the studies to be handed over to the BAPE, who will conduct a public inquiry to determine whether and under what conditions to proceed (The Globe and Mail, 2013). The Minister believes that the BAPE is in the best position to determine the effects on groundwater of hydraulic fracturing in populated areas. “In order to have the most reliable results that we can get, in order to get through the whole process and manage this whole issue once and for all, we needed to entrust the BAPE with this consultation,” he said (CBC News, 2013).
Public hearings will commence following the completion of the studies at the end of 2013, and Quebec’s National Assembly will design regulatory legislation for the industry following the outcome of the BAPE’s SEA and the public’s response (CBC News, 2013).
“PQ puts shale-gas development in St. Lawrence Valley on hold indefinitely.” The Globe and Mail (2013). (Web). Retrieved on March 18, 2013 from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/pq-puts-shale-gas-development-in-st-lawrence-valley-on-hold-indefinitely/article8320827/
“Strategic Environmental Assessment on Shale Gas.” Government of Quebec (2013). (Web). Retrieved on March 18, 2013 from: http://ees-gazdeschiste.gouv.qc.ca/en/
Strategic Environmental Assessment Committee on Shale Gas, (2012). Implementation plan for the strategic environmental assessment on shale gas. Library and National Archives of Quebec. ISBN 978-2-550-64893-2. (Web). Retrieved on March 18, 2013 from: http://ees-gazdeschiste.gouv.qc.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/plan-de-realisation-version-finale-2-avril-2012-ANGLAIS.pdf
“Shale gas industry under study by Quebec.” CBC News (2013). (Web). Retrieved on March 18, 2013 from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2013/02/06/shale-gas-industry-studied-bape.html