Late this afternoon, Mr Pierre Arcand, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, released a report on the sustainable development of the shale gas industry in Quebec that was submitted to him by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) on February 28, 2011.

The report (in French only) is available on the BAPE website.

In a release issued today, the Minister indicated that he welcomed favourably the general recommendations of the report and that he would appoint a committee immediately to follow-up on the BAPE's major recommendation that a strategic environmental assessment be conducted.

Overview of the Report

In all, the BAPE made 43 findings and issued 101 recommendations. We note the following recommendations:

  • A strategic environmental assessment on the development of the shale gas industry should be conducted. The time required to conduct such an assessment may be between 18 to 30 months;
  • All hydraulic fracturing activities should be prohibited while the environmental assessment is being carried out except if these are required for the purpose of conducting the strategic environmental assessment. Shale gas exploration could continue without hydraulic fracturing;
  • The regulatory framework applicable to the shale gas industry is to be reviewed and updated, in particular to provide that the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks be responsible for its application, notably by requiring that a single certificate of authorization pursuant to Section 22 of the Environment Quality Act be obtained for exploration and operation activities so that impacts can be assessed in a comprehensive manner;
  • Powers should be granted to municipalities in order to allow them to regulate the development of the industry at the local level.

Background

Quebec shale gas reserves are located in the Utica deposit in the St. Lawrence River Valley. Recently developed technologies have made extracting this resource economically viable. As a result, shale gas reserves in Quebec have attracted the attention of the industry and triggered exploration activity. The exploration activities caused parts of the population to raise questions about the industry.

On August 31, 2010, the Minister instructed the BAPE to create a commission of inquiry to investigate and hold public hearings on the sustainable development of the Quebec shale gas industry. Specifically, the Minister has mandated the commission to:

  • propose a framework for the exploration, development and extraction of shale gas in order to foster harmonious coexistence of these activities with the communities involved, the environment and the other activities conducted in the same area;
  • propose guidelines for the statutory and regulatory framework for the safe and sustainable development of natural gas exploration and collection infrastructure.

The BAPE

The BAPE is an independent agency that reports to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. Its mission is to enlighten government decision-making in a sustainable development perspective, which encompasses the biophysical, social and economic aspects. The BAPE has no decision-making power; it is a government agency entrusted with an advisory role.