Emotions driving Quebec fracking moratorium, Bouchard says – by Bertrand Marotte (Globe and Mail – February 19, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

MONTREAL — Quebec is sending a discouraging message to potential investors by dithering over development of its potentially huge oil and gas reserves, says former premier Lucien Bouchard.

Those who oppose hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas have essentially won the battle because the government has indefinitely suspended all such activities, said Mr. Bouchard, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association after his client – Talisman Energy Inc. – withdrew from the group.

His comments add fuel to the heated battle over Quebec’s energy future. While the industry pushes for the province to move quickly to set clear rules on oil and gas exploration, the government says a cautious approach is needed to deal with the environmental issues that surround hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking, as it is commonly called, uses large quantities of water and chemicals to fracture rock to release trapped gas. Opponents say fracking compromises groundwater, a claim the industry disputes. Similar arguments are being heard in many jurisdictions, but in Quebec the topic has become particularly touchy.

Mr. Bouchard, a senior partner at law firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, says environmentalists, farmers and others in the province reacted viscerally to the sudden appearance in their backyards of English-speaking exploration crews, mostly from Western Canada and the United States, doing test drilling.

“Overnight, derricks were being put up on the banks of the Richelieu River. It was almost a repeat of the 1837 troubles, when British troops went there to put down the rebellion,” he said, jokingly, though he acknowledged that industry officials went ahead hastily with test drilling without fully educating the public.

The upshot is that well-organized opposition groups capitalized on the initial confusion, and the debate became highly emotional, Mr. Bouchard said.

The minority Parti Québécois government of Pauline Marois isn’t shutting the door on oil and gas development, but Mr. Bouchard warns it will take some time before the first well starts commercial production.

In the interim, the uncertainty in the province over what rules will apply to oil and gas extraction isn’t helping Quebec’s image, he says.

“The reaction of investors can’t be good. This isn’t how you go about attracting investors, that’s for sure,” he said.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/emotions-driving-quebec-fracking-moratorium-bouchard-says/article8778720/

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