(Lac-Beauport) The enthusiasm of the Minister of Environment for shale gas has suddenly evaporated on Friday.
After trying to reassure Quebecers on this track, it shows now worried. "I myself am extremely concerned about what is happening. I feel that the industry does not control the situation, "commented Minister Pierre Arcand, Friday morning at the caucus PLQ in Lac-Beauport.
For months, environmentalists accuse him of behaving as a promoter of the industry. Friday, he took a tougher tone. He admits he has "always been in favor of this industry" but he believes the industry has "lost control". So he closes the door to a moratorium. "The industry will then be properly or there simply will not."
Charest feels the same way. "There will be exploration and exploitation of shale gas provided that it can be done properly. Otherwise, there will not, "he assured.
However, in the fall, Mr. Charest repeated that a moratorium was "not necessary". The government does not ask himself whether to exploit shale gas, but how it was done. Indeed, following the mandate was given to the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE), "Proposing a framework for development of exploration and exploitation of shale gas."
The BAPE is due to report Feb. 28. The government expects to receive before making a decision.
Do we declare a moratorium if the BAPE recommended? Mr. Charest refused to get involved. "I pledge to comply with more stringent conditions on the issue of health and the development of this industry," did he merely replied Friday.
The PQ is the statement of Mr. Arcand comes a little late. He wants the minister moves from talk to action. "If the BAPE interpreted literally the mandate given to him, this excludes a moratorium. We ask the minister to write to ask the BAPE to comment on the moratorium, "said Scott McKay, spokesman for the official opposition in mines.
After the BAPE report, the government must prepare a hydrocarbon law that will govern the exploitation of shale gas. "Adopt a law, it takes quite some time. We should not wait, we must now do a moratorium, "says McKay.
In the fall, the PQ has introduced a bill to stop looking until this legislation is passed. Mr. McKay acknowledged that temporarily suspended the licenses of businesses is something that is "still serious." But it's legal, he said. Once the legislation is passed, it would extend the permit for a period equivalent to that of the suspension, "he said.
Québec solidaire has proposed a similar bill, the government dismissed as that of the PQ. Even if she wants a moratorium now, Françoise David is delighted nonetheless the statement of Mr. Arcand. "It's a step in the right direction," she said.
Three reasons for the volte-face
Mr. Arcand has given three reasons for his volte-face.
First, the "crimes" of the industry and leaks in wells. Gas fumes were detected in 19 of the 31 wells inspected since 2006. Some were harmless, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources. By cons, gas concentrations of methane (between 7% and 65%) had emerged from seven wells, which could pose a problem.
Second reason given by the Minister: the leak that had clogged and 2000 m depth in the well of Talisman in Leclercville last December, information that had also been forwarded before the BAPE be revealed in the media Friday.
And last reason, the preliminary report of the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, said insufficient information to determine if the industry poses a risk.
According to the Minister of Natural Resources, Normandeau, lack of information is another reason for the exploration and exploitation of shale gas in its opinion, it would improve the knowledge on the subject. Currently on vacation outside the country, Mrs. Normandeau could not react to statements by Mr. Arcand Friday.