Look before you leap. This common sense adage is something you’d pick up from talking to your grandmother. Obviously the Quebec government has not been spending enough time with its grandmother. The provincial government is jumping into the shale gas industry without taking enough time to educate themselves. Okay, so it’s cleaner than tar sands and oil mining. But it being the newest and most exciting alternative doesn’t make it the best one.
Here is what we, the public, know about this stuff. The gas is collected by shooting chemical-laced water at shale rock in a process called hydraulic fracturing. Then all the dirty water gets sucked out of the wells to be cleaned. There is a possibility that some fluids could escape and contaminate the earth or groundwater sources. We should not be taking this risk prematurely, and we are. Quebec has already begun shale gas exploration in low-lying regions along the St. Lawrence river.
Quebec’s environmental protection agency, otherwise known as the BAPE, has been told by the provincial government to review shale gas exploration. In other words their job is to inform everyone whether it’s a good idea or not and why, as well as tell the government the best way to oversee the popular new industry. They have been given a February 2011 deadline for this.
Recently, a group of former members of the BAPE, including the ex-president and ex-vice-president, expressed doubts the agency will have time to fulfill this mandate, claiming the Liberal deadline is just too soon for such a big job.
The Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois agrees. At a party caucus meeting on Sept. 2, opposition leader Pauline Marois called for a moratorium on shale gas drilling and exploration in the province until the BAPE completes its probe.
The public also agrees. The companies spearheading shale gas exploration east of Trois-RiviÃ¨res, where digging has already begun, held a meeting for locals to express their opinions Sept. 15. The companies were met with a barrage of protests and calls for a moratorium.
Oh, but never mind: there’s no need to worry folks, because the government (in this case Quebec Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau) says everything is fine and they are confident BAPE has enough time and resources to get “er done. And anyway there will be no large-scale projects until 2014, according to the minister.
Normandeau also made sure to tell us about how much Quebec would benefit financially from the shale gas industry – $1 billion a year once production gets underway. Sounds great! Don’t be fooled. Most of the shareholders who would rake in the cash live outside of Quebec.
Andre CaillÃ©, president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association, says shale gas will eventually give everyone in the world access to cheaper energy. He predicts the emergence of shale gas as a new energy source will reduce costs of other energies, like oil. This could be true, but it is unreasonable to tout suspected positive outcomes and avoid investigating the possibility of negative effects.
Also, whatever happened to a commitment to sustainable energy? In 2006, Quebec promised to focus on renewable energy (hydroelectricity, wind, and biomass) with the flamboyant release of their Quebec Energy Strategy 2006-2015. They have not followed through on this promise. Instead, they are throwing money at the newest way to pollute the earth and avoiding making real changes to improve the future.
The Quebec government should suspend all shale gas drilling and exploration until the BAPE completes its report, and give them more time to do so if needed. But the greater issue here is that the government needs to initiate action towards researching sustainable energy.