Oil ‘manifesto’ urges Parti Québécois to develop province’s resources – by Nicolas Van Praet (National Post – January 9, 2014)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

MONTREAL — A group of prominent Quebecers is urging the Parti Québécois government to move ahead with oil development as concern builds over the province’s financial predicament.

Former PQ premier Bernard Landry and former Liberal finance minister Monique Jérome-Forget are among 11 noteworthy people who on Wednesday released a so-called “Manifesto to benefit collectively from our oil.” Several businesspeople are also among the signatories.

The effort was organized by the largest network of business people and companies in Quebec, the Fédération des Chambres de Commerce. It underscores a debate on energy in Quebec that has only just begun – one pitting people who believe the province should seek to produce its own oil against those who argue the risks are too high and that the world is moving toward cleaner energy.

It comes at a critical time as economists at the Royal Bank of Canada warn that Quebec’s economy may be entering a “new normal” period of slow growth, challenged by deteriorating working-age population numbers and the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of all the provinces.

Becoming an oil producer could change the financial picture for Quebec substantially, even if it won’t happen in the near term.

“For us, it’s quite clear that when you import $14-billion worth of petroleum a year and there’s a possibility that we could [produce] our own, why not?” said Fédération president Françoise Bertrand. “It’d be stupid not to do it.”

Major companies like Shell Canada and Penzoil have been searching for oil and gas in Quebec since the end of the 19th century, mostly in the sedimentary basins of the Gaspé Peninsula and the St. Lawrence River lowlands. But no sustained commercial oil production has yet happened. Meanwhile, the province imports all of its oil from overseas, namely Algeria, Kazakhstan and Angola.

Advances in seismic imaging and drilling techniques might change the business case for petroleum explorers and producers. But social acceptability remains a major hurdle. Even the smallest and most advanced projects, such as Pétrolia Inc.’s planned Haldimand light oil deposit near the town of Gaspé (which has 7.7 million barrels of potentially recoverable oil), have encountered resistance.

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