Quebec's Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Mr. Pierre Arcand, today announced the release by the province's environmental assessment commission on the heated topic of sustainable development of the shale gas industry in Québec, whose natural gas reserves are estimated at between 9 and 40 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf), or approximately 25% of the overall reserves contained in the Utica Shales.

The report was prepared by the province's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement ("BAPE") pursuant to Article 6.3 of the Environement Quality Act, whereby the BAPE may inquire into any question relating to the quality of the environment submitted to it by the Minister and report back to him on its findings and analysis thereof.

The report, which will undoubtedly be the subject of heavy public scrutiny in weeks to come, was released following two rounds of public consultation held in October and November 2010 and consideration by the BAPE of no less than 199 papers from interested parties representing a variety of backgrounds and interests.

The BAPE's specific mandate was threefold: (1) to propose development guidelines for shale gas exploration and production which encourage its harmonious coexistence with the neighboring environment, populations and existing activities; (2) to propose guidelines for a legal and regulatory framework for the safe and sustainable development of shale gas exploration, capture and production; and (3) to work with scientific advisors that will evaluate all challenges related to the mandate.

In its 323-page report, the BAPE puts forth 43 observations and issues over one hundred opinions that are mainly addressed to the Government of Québec. The observations and opinions mainly target the following three areas: (1) Addressing the knowledge deficit within the industry, government and in the general population; (2) Encouraging social acceptability of development through innovation in the area of public hearings and dialogue with the various government and regional actors that are involved; and (3) Strengthening current regulatory provisions.

Commenting on the report, Minister Arcand stated that "The commissioners have produced a rigorous report that sheds valuable light on this issue. I welcome its main recommendations, and I can state that it will guide our future actions". Reiterating the government's message on shale gas development in the province, the Minister said that it would "either develop properly, or else close down" and concluded that "The people of Québec need to know that we will abide no compromise on matters of health, safety or respect for the environment, and that we will take all the time needed to ensure that these conditions are fulfilled,"

Following up on the report's main recommendation that a strategic environmental assessment on shale gas be performed, Minister Arcand announced that a committee of experts and representatives from government, municipalities and industry would be created.

A copy of the report (French only) can be found here.