In 2010, Québec’s Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife, Nathalie Normandeau, made the first announcement regarding the province’s exceptional potential in natural gas, including shale gas. However, the government may not have been prepared for the wave of criticism that followed. Indeed, criticism emerged from a very diverse spectrum of entities and persons including municipalities, environmental groups, scientists and citizens. In May 2011, the government announced new measures to tackle the problem and to reassure the population namely by performing a Strategic Environmental Assessment. Mostly based on the recommendations made by the Bureau des audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) in its report tabled last February, these measures appear to address concerns about developing a better understanding of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (also referred to as “fracking”), control and safety of hydraulic fracturing, and more broadly, management of shale gas by the industry. However, many are still asking whether these measures are adequate. The Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks therefore tabled the following draft regulations at the beginning of May as a measure to address certain of the concerns raised by several shareholders.
Regulation to amend the Regulation respecting the application of the Environmental Quality Act
The main purpose of this draft regulation is to require proponents to obtain a certificate of authorization under section 22 of the Environment Quality Act (EQA) before undertaking operations including drilling work and/or fracturing to explore for or produce petroleum or natural gas in shale. Furthermore, the draft regulation provides for specific requirements including informing and consulting the public about the proposed activity prior to requesting a certificate of authorization to perform such activities.
Concretely, this means that a person who applies for a certificate of authorization must publish a notice in a newspaper distributed in the municipality in which the work is to be carried out indicating:
- the cadastral designation of the lot or lots on which the project will be carried out;
- the description or illustration of the perimeter of the territory on which the project will be carried out and that the description or illustration is available for consultation at the office of the municipality;
- a summary of the project including a description of the project’s technical aspects, a plan of the site and an indication of the type and volume of contaminants likely to be emitted, discharged, issued or deposited into or in the environment and their points of emission, deposit, issuance or discharge;
- the date, time and place of the public consultation to be held in the municipality no less than 20 days following the publication of the notice; and
- a statement that the full text of the document presenting the project can be examined on the project proponent’s website (the notice must indicate the website address) and at the office of the municipality where a copy of the document can be obtained on payment of a fee.
A copy of the published notice must be sent to the Minister, to the municipality and to the regional county municipality where the project is to be carried out.
The draft regulation also establishes that, following public consultation, the project proponent shall submit a report to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks describing the observations collected during the consultation, as well as any changes made to the project. Finally, this report as well as a copy of the published notice must be included with the application for a certificate of authorization.
Draft regulation respecting the filing of information on certain drilling and fracturing work on gas or petroleum wells
This other draft regulation also tabled by the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks addresses certain aspects related to the implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), one of the key recommendations made by the BAPE in its report on the inquiry and public hearings held last year about the sustainable development of the shale gas industry in Québec. The Minister plans to collect more information on the shale gas industry and, most of all, on its impact on the environment through this draft regulation, which is specifically targets enterprises that perform or have performed drilling work to explore for or produce petroleum or natural gas, or fracturing operations to explore for or produce those products. Enterprises that obtained certificate of authorization as well as natural or legal persons who carried out the described work during the seven years prior to the coming into force of the regulation will be required to submit the prescribed information on a quarterly basis, which includes:
- drilling and well completion methods and technologies;
- complete water management, including water catchment and re-use;
- the volume of the fluids and the detailed composition and characteristics of the additives used for drilling and fracturing;
- knowledge and monitoring of surface and groundwater within a one-kilometre perimeter;
- identification of zones at risk of contamination;
- the geo-chemistry and contamination of rock formations by waste fracturing water and injection of waste water at depth;
- the characterization, quantity and destination of residual solids and liquids intended for recovery, treatment or elimination;
- emissions monitoring;
- knowledge of the geological horizons traversed by the well; and
- all technical data relative to the design and drilling of authorized wells and results of well integrity tests.
If adopted, the draft regulation will result in extra costs and concerns for targeted enterprises that will be required to provide information on the composition of fracturing fluids (which has also recently been required by the state of Texas) or the composition and management of residual materials resulting from their operations. This information will help the Minister and the SEA committee acquire better scientific and technical knowledge on this industry and its impact on public health and the environment.
However, despite general appearances, this regulation generated a number of sharp reactions from scientists and environmental groups. Their criticisms are mostly aimed at the composition and the mandate of the SEA committee. Public concerns have focused on the absence of citizen and environmental organizations representation on the committee and on the committee’s objectivity - some members have previously expressed their support for the industry. Furthermore, the SEA has excluded contributions from experts from the energy, economic, public health and agricultural sectors, which some say are essential to determine the sustainability of such resource development in Québec. However, the government believes the information collected through the SEA should be sufficient to ensure the safe and sustainable development of the shale gas industry in Québec. One could question the relevance of collecting information on hydraulic fracturing of a few exploratory drilling sites in Québec, when the industry has been collecting this information for years on an operational level. According to some, it is very unlikely that the collected data could suddenly differ from that obtained in other states or provinces. For this reason, the President of Questerre has mentioned that these new regulations are a lot more political than scientific.
Be that as it may, if these two new draft regulations are adopted, the government of Québec is confident that this first step will contribute to reduce the population’s fears and concerns over the exploitation of shale gas in populated areas of Québec.