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Quebec Planning Moratorium, Will Suspend Exploration Licenses

A Quebec government official said Wednesday that legislation will be introduced next week to formally enact a moratorium on shale gas development in the province, a ban that would be in effect until the results of a two-year study on potential impacts are fully vetted.

Meanwhile, Lucien Bouchard -- a popular former premier of Quebec and a former leader of the Parti Quebecois (PQ), the political party leading Quebec's current minority government -- has stepped down as president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association (QOGA).

According to reports, Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet said that when the National Assembly reconvenes next week, it will take up legislation to ban licenses to explore for oil and natural gas in the province and to suspend the licenses that have already been issued.

On March 8, 2011, the Quebec government launched a two-year study of shale gas development but allowed hydraulic fracturing to continue for exploration purposes only (see Shale Daily, March 10, 2011). The study came as a suggestion by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE), a government office.

Blanchet said the province's two-year study should be completed by the end of 2013, at which point BAPE will take over and determine, with public input, whether shale gas development can be properly regulated.

"The moratorium will be enforced until the National Assembly has adopted legislation that will define how we manage and dispose of shale gas," Blanchet told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Companies operating in Quebec, which overlies a small portion of the Utica Shale, reportedly expected the move in part because the PQ campaigned last fall on a promise to shut down shale development.

"We'll wait to see what the actual legislation says, and then we'll see what it does to my optimism [about the future of shale gas in Quebec]," Questerre Energy Corp. CEO Michael Binnion told Toronto's National Post. Questerre holds a license to explore for oil and gas in Quebec.

Talisman Energy Inc. said last fall it would not spend any more money on exploration activities in Quebec (see Shale Daily, Nov. 1, 2012). Talisman has also reportedly decided to withdraw its membership from QOGA, but company spokesman Tom Neufeld told the Globe and Mail that those decisions had nothing to do with Wednesday's announcement by Blanchet.

"It was a business decision that reflects the fact that Talisman has no plans for capital spending in the near future in the province," Neufeld said, adding that the Calgary-based company had not made any final decisions over its plans in Quebec.

Bouchard was selected to lead QOGA in January 2011 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27, 2011). He served as Quebec's premier from 1996 to 2001, and is a former Minister of the Environment for the Canadian federal government. He has also served as Head of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. QOGA was established in April 2009.

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