Strike Three for Shale Gas Fracking In Québec, Is A Moratorium Imminent?

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Shale Gas: No Thank You!

Once again, Québec’s government is under fire for shoddy management of its shale gas (gaz de schiste in French) reserves.

Last week, as part of Auditor General’s 2010-2011 report to the Québec National Assembly, Sustainable Development Commissioner Jean Cinq-Mars presented a scathing audit of provincial management of shale gas, “Government Management of Shale Gas Exploration and Production” [PDF].

Cinq-Mars assessed whether or not the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife (Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, MRNF) and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs, MDDEP) are taking the necessary precautions to ensure that shale gas resources are developed according to the Sustainable Development Act and related principles, as well as public interest, government objectives and regional development priorities.

Shale gas development in the province fails on all measures in the audit, demonstrating just how poorly the government is overseeing the gas industry.
Cinq-Mars noted the lack of a long-term social cost-benefit analysis, poor public engagement on the issue and the fact that shale gas development needs to be squared with other planning goals. Additional key findings from the new audit include:

MRNF and MDDEP actions show very little consideration for the principles of the Sustainable Development Act and for the recommendations included in the 2009 report on the mining sector. Their actions do not ensure sustainable development of shale gas resources, as they do not allow for achieving a fair balance between the interests of Québec society, local communities and industry.”

No clear alignment with priorities and territorial planning.

Late implementation of governmental mechanisms for public participation.

No clear evidence of benefits for Québec society.

Regulatory measures that minimize company expenses.

Barely any MRNF controls of operations.

Lack of departmental controls.

He also notes that in the case of spills and accidents (19 of the province’s 31 wells have leaks) liability falls mainly on the shoulders of citizens and not the corporations drilling and threatening health and damaging the environment:

I found that in the case of shale gas, current government regulations are not very stringent when it comes to civil liability insurance.”

“…the risks are higher for the Québec society of potentially having to assume the expenses resulting from an accident or the degradation of the environment than for the private enterprise that will have caused the accident or the degradation.”

The Sustainable Development Commissioner’s findings come just a month after the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) report [PDF] on shale gas and the citizens’ coalition Maîtres chez nous 21è siècle parallel report [PDF]. While the BAPE report did not call for a moratorium on shale gas development, it blasted the shale gas industry for failing to protect the safety and health of the population and the natural environment. The parallel report, like Cinq-Mars’ audit, describes how shale gas development does not align with the Sustainable Development Act and hurts emissions reductions targets and clean energy goals.

Québec’s Premier Jean Charest continues to oppose a shale gas moratorium despite the negative press and an angry public that has turned against dangerous gas drilling.

In Québec, shale gas regulations are clearly too weak and are not effectively protecting the environment and public safety. The province’s stance on drilling does not account for the economic costs and environmental impacts from carbon emissions, and an explosion in gas drilling  does notn’t conform with the principles of the province’s Sustainable Development Act. Cinq-Mars lays this out quite clearly.

The New York Times has extensively investigated several threats from shale development and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) in its series “Drilling Down,” and has documented how this disastrous drilling method threatens public health and the environment.

Half of Québec’s shale wells employ the controversial fracking technique.

Cinq-Mars found that the province earns a mere $200,000 in annual income from granting exploration permits compared to other jurisdictions, like British Columbia’s $2.41 billion in total revenue (in 2008). If the province is not even benefitting economically, why risk public health and the environment?

Shale gas has no place as part of the province’s energy mix and it is time for a transition towards clean energy. A shale moratorium is long overdue.

Read the audit here:

Government Management of Shale Gas Exploration and Production” [English highlights, PDF]

Gestion gouvernementale de l’exploration et de l’exploitation des gaz de schiste” [French full audit, PDF]

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