Former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, who now serves as president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association (QOGA), appeared before a Quebec National Assembly committee to urge compensation for companies in limbo from the province’s environmental study of shale gas, but the meeting became heated after a legislator called Bouchard “unfaithful” to Quebec’s citizens.

The Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Energy and Natural Resources was discussing Bill 18, which would prohibit Utica Shale oil and gas activities in the St. Lawrence River and islands upstream of Anticosti Island. The bill would also suspend the term of exploration licenses for oil, natural gas and underground reservoirs in Quebec, and exempt license holders from doing any work required under the Mining Act for two years.

Bouchard said the QOGA still supported the provincial government’s decision in March to conduct a two-year strategic environmental assessment of shale gas (see Shale Daily, March 17; March 10), but said oil and gas companies should be compensated for the two years they would lose from their 10-year permits if Bill 18 is enacted.

“It’s possible that the study will take longer than two years, and if successful, there will be a new hydrocarbon law,” Bouchard said in a translated statement, arguing that existing permits should be extended. “From the moment there was a break, permit holders were prevented from fulfilling their obligations. Clearly if the permits were suspended for a lengthy passage of time, the duration of the licenses should also be extended with the time that it takes to do the study. So if we lost three years, three years should be added at the end of the original 10-year term.”

Bill 18 also stipulates that the government would not pay any compensation. Bouchard argued that part of the bill should also be changed.

“How much are these permits worth?” Bouchard asked. “What is the value of the work that was done? One can certainly argue that there has been an added value to these permits. The government of Quebec has never revoked permit rights without providing compensation.”

He added, “It’s not a trivial question. From the moment a company from Quebec, Canada, America, Australia or anywhere else invests and obtains a permit legally and agrees with the permit’s conditions, they’re not expecting that we will then cut the grass out from under their feet without compensation. The investors in the world are watching. Businesses could feel robbed of their rights due to the removal of a permit. That’s a very bad message to send outside Quebec to investors.”

Later in the meeting, Amir Khadir, the sole member of the Quebec Solidaire party in the National Assembly, blasted Bouchard — who served as Quebec’s premier from 1996 to 2001 — for becoming a mouthpiece for the oil and gas industry.

“A lot of people, mostly separatists, were sorry to see you go and now return representing the oil and gas industry,” Khadir said. “As separatists, it is quite inconceivable that we can serve the interests of a nation while working diligently to protect the interests of foreign multinationals who seek to defraud our natural resources. It’s sad. You have not been faithful to the commitment we must have as a public servant.”

Bouchard fired back, asking, “Am I here to suffer moral judgments from this gentleman? Is this the tradition [in the National Assembly] that people who appear are judged under a moral nature? It’s absolutely outrageous.”

Bouchard attended the meeting with Altai Resources Inc. CEO Marc-Andre Lavoie and Junex Inc. COO Peter Lawrence Dorrins.

Toronto-based Altai has a 100% interest on 282,544 contiguous acres in Sorel-Trois Rivieres — located in the heart of the St. Lawrence Lowlands — and a 15% royalty for 32,840 acres held by Talisman Energy Canada in the same region. Meanwhile, Quebec City-based Junex holds mineral rights to more than 6 million acres, including more than 1 million acres in the St. Lawrence Lowlands.