Quebec environment group Équiterre is calling for a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the province until the controversial process is reviewed for environmental risks.
The St. Lawrence River's south shore is fertile farmland and rich in shale deposits. (CBC)Équiterre says there are too many unanswered questions about the impact of extracting natural gas using a new technology called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking".
"We could take six months or something like that to study it carefully," Équiterre deputy director Stephen Guilbeault said Tuesday.
"Obviously, the information provided needs to be independent. It cannot come from the people who stand to benefit millions from the exploitation of this resource."
Équiterre says potential groundwater contamination is a real issue for public safety, and the Liberal government should halt exploratory drilling pending further study.
Quebec's environmental protection agency — known as the BAPE — is reviewing natural gas exploration and is expected to report back to the provincial government by February 2011.
Companies reproached for not informing communitiesThe province has already allowed gas exploration in low-lying regions along the St. Lawrence River, where there are deposits of the gas trapped in shale bedrock. But the government has chastised the Quebec Oil and Gas Association for how it proceeded with its drilling.
Communities along the St. Lawrence River where drilling has started have complained they weren't notified about the work until after the fact.
Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau said people should have been told ahead of time.
"I had a discussion with [association president] Mr. [André] Caillé about the bad experience with one community, and my message is clear: It is not acceptable for Quebec."
The oil and gas association is hosting information sessions in communities where shale gas deposits have been identified. The first meeting was scheduled in Bécancour, outside Montreal, on Tuesday night.
Shale gas has been lauded by leading energy companies around the world as a rich source of future power.
Earlier this week in Montreal, Shell CEO Peter Voser told an international energy conference that shale gas has risks, but they are manageable.