Quebec will allow producers to work on preliminary natural gas shale development while regulatory issues are reviewed, Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau said Tuesday.

Last month the province launched plans to consider revised regulations on shale gas development (see Daily GPI, Sept. 1). In its first public hearing to discuss the plan, a capacity crowd greeted regulators. Environmental group Equiterre called for more studies to determine how shale gas production would impact the province’s sustainable development and agricultural land.

Normandeau, who also is Quebec’s deputy premier, told the crowd that the province has been clear about its plan to develop more gas resources since it adopted a comprehensive energy strategy four years ago (see Daily GPI, June 8, 2007).

However, Equiterre Deputy Director Steven Guilbeault told the crowd, “There’s no rush. The gas is not going anywhere. It’s not going to evaporate. It’s not going to migrate to some other provinces or U.S. states. It’s going to go stay there…What’s wrong with taking six months, or a little bit more, to study this thoroughly?”

The environmental group issued a report at the hearing that indicated shale gas production would make it difficult for the province to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets, which call for Quebec to reduce emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020.

In other parts of North America and the world, GHG emissions are reduced when fossil fuels like coal are replaced with gas, the report said. In Quebec, however, only 4.4% of the utility Hydro-Quebec’s production comes from fossil fuels.

“We are not opposed to natural gas, but there are lots of unanswered questions that the industry and government should provide answers to,” Guilbeault said. Currently “it’s impossible” to determine how shale gas would play a positive role in Quebec.

Normandeau countered that in 2008 petroleum resources still accounted for 38% of the province’s energy needs and using more gas would reduce emissions. “It’s clear people want credible, objective” information about shale gas, she said, noting that Quebec is launching a website this month devoted to shale gas issues.

“We don’t want to develop it at any cost,” Normandeau told the Montreal Gazette following the hearing. She said citizens need to be informed and environmental considerations have to be taken into account before producers are allowed to launch full exploration and production projects in 2014.

In related news, producer Questerre Energy Corp. has become the first in the province to publicly disclose the additives that it uses in its shale gas hydraulic fracturing (fracing) operations.

“Questerre is committed to operating in an environmentally responsible and socially acceptable manner,” said Questerre CEO Michael Binnion. “Making the composition of our frac fluids available to the public is just one of the ways we are working to respect the social acceptability of shale gas development in Quebec.”

Hydrofracing operations in the Utica Shale are conducted at “a minimum depth of 1,000 meters below the freshwater zones in Quebec,” according to Questerre. Fresh water is separated from the frac fluids by several layers of steel casing and cement.

“Producing natural gas from Quebec’s Utica Shale presents an extraordinary opportunity for Quebec,” said Binnion. “Billions of dollars in royalties, local employment of over 7,500 jobs and the repatriation of the C$2 billion that Quebec currently sends to Western Canada each year are just a few of the benefits.

“Myths from U.S.-based political groups, which are also used as a source of information by environmental groups in Quebec, should not prevent Quebecers from benefiting from this opportunity.”

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