After inaugurating natural gas production in New Brunswick, a persistent pioneer of drilling on Canada's Atlantic seaboard says early signs of an untapped fossil fuels mother lode have been found in eastern Quebec.

At a moderate depth averaging 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), the target covers virtually all of 7,923-square-kilometer (3,059-square-mile) Anticosti Island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, says Corridor Resources Inc. (see Shale Daily, Feb. 14). A technical report that Corridor and partner Petrolia Inc. commissioned from Sproule Associates, the Calgary dean of Canada's petroleum engineering and geology consulting firms, calculates high potential: liquids and gas equivalent to 19.8-48.2 billion boe in 2,343 square miles (6,092 square kilometers) of mineral hunting licenses that the two exploration and production firms hold on the island.

Known as the Macasty Shale, the formation is described as a northern extension of 450 million-year-old geological structures where the U.S. petroleum industry was born in the mid-19th Century and that modern technology has resurrected as drilling hot spots throughout the Appalachian region of North America.

Sproule cautions that the estimates are highly speculative. There is no gas or oil production on Anticosti. Technical data up to modern standards comes primarily from only eight exploratory wells and 400 kilometers (240 miles) of seismic surveys since 1998.

The big numbers on the Anticosti gas and liquids potential are for a Canadian resource fortune hunters' concept formally known as total petroleum initially in place (PIIP). That is a quantity estimated simply to exist in naturally occurring accumulations including as-yet undiscovered reservoirs.

There is no estimate of commercially recoverable supplies that could be extracted using current technology. In addition to economic and technical unknowns, there is still exploration or discovery risk, Sproule says. Environmental and political risks are also not incorporated into the calculations of the Quebec target's size.

In formal statements to prospective investors and partners, Corridor and Petrolia agree, "The value in conducting this assessment lies purely in its use as a basis for determining whether it appears worthwhile to conduct further investigation into these resources."

The technical assessment estimates that about three-quarters of the Macasty Shale formation has the right geological characteristics to harbor liquids or oil.

But as in all other aspects of the Quebec exploration target, there is a major reservation. Corridor says, "This is an unconventional shale oil resource that will require a stimulated completion (a well taken all the way to the production stage) for evaluation." The company cautions, "Until an appropriately researched project has been undertaken to identify and evaluate potentially recoverable volumes, it is premature to speculate whether the Macasty contains recoverable or unrecoverable resources."

But among Canadian fossil fuel fortune hunters, all the caveats are not necessarily reasons to discount Anticosti entirely. Discussions are under way with potential partners in further exploration -- and especially bigger entities with deeper pockets, say the companies.

Corridor has earned credibility by establishing a track record and exceptional durability for a Canadian energy junior. Launched in 1995 in Halifax by a Nova Scotia-born veteran of the Calgary-based Western Canadian petroleum industry, Norm Miller, the company scored a New Brunswick gas discovery called the McCully Field in 2000.

Rather than peddle the find to a big producer or other investors, Corridor over the following six years drilled 19 wells, built a processing plant, and constructed a connection into Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline to break into export markets in the northeastern U.S.

While Miller has retired as Corridor president, the executive team that he recruited is studded with like-minded professionals who have Atlantic Canadian connections and extensive experience in the nation's primarily western oil and gas industry. The group includes alumni of Encana Corp., Gulf Canada, TransCanada Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Duke Energy, Westcoast, Schlumberger Ltd., Emera and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Industry analysts emphasize that Corridor and Anticosti will continue to be long-range prospects to watch rather than overnight successes -- and not least because of the location of their resource prospects.

The island is bound to emerge as a sensitive spot in a scheduled 30-month inquiry that the Quebec government ordered in the spring into environmental issues raised by shale exploration and production.

The review followed hot protests from a community unaccustomed to oil and gas operations to a provincial watchdog agency, the Bureau des audiences publiques sur l'environnement. Although Anticosti's permanent population is only 280, who are chiefly lighthouse keepers and their families, the island is a nature and wildlife region prized by Quebec's big communities of game hunters and ecotourists.