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NEWS: Quebec agrees to partial moratorium on fracking

The Canadian Press reports this hour that, “A highly anticipated Quebec report (by the the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement or BAPE) has recommended that the province halt a controversial natural-gas drilling practice (known as fracking), pending further study. Within minutes of releasing the report Tuesday, the Quebec government announced it would respect its findings.”

The Montreal Gazette adds, “(Quebec environment minister Pierre) Arcand announced Tuesday that no new drilling would be allowed for shale gas without local approval. The minister also announced he has accepted the BAPE recommendation and will order a strategic environmental evaluation of shale gas. …That type of study, overseen by an expert committee, can take one to two years to complete. And during the time of that study, no hydraulic fracturing – where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the ground at high-pressure – should be allowed, unless it is for the purposes of the study, said the four commissioners who did the study for the Bureau d’audiences publique sur l’environnement.”

And the Globe and Mail specifies that the board recommended: 1) “the province proceed with a ‘strategic environmental evaluation’ that would closely examine all of the potential risks involved in the drilling and extraction of natural gas from the shale rock formation”; 2) “communities need to be well informed of the potential consequences of proceeding with current natural-gas drilling techniques”; 3) “hydrofracking be authorized only where environmental evaluations are being conducted”; 4) “local authorities oversee the ‘harmonious co-habitation’ between the industry and the residents, and that they be authorized to regulate the industry in their communities”; and 5) “further exploration and development be authorized exclusively by the Ministry of the Environment rather than include the Ministry of Natural Resources in issuing permits.”

The full articles are at http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Report+shale+industry+expected+Tuesday/4401498/story.html, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2011/03/08/bape-shale-gas-report.html, and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec/quebec-should-put-shale-gas-drilling-on-hold-environmental-report-says/article1934217/.

Update: The Montreal Gazette now reports that, “Environment Minister Pierre Arcand did not bend to opposition demands for a shale-gas moratorium. …Instead of a full stop, Arcand indicated the government is just slowing down, buying time, with the goal of pushing ahead with what it conceives as safe shale-gas extraction. (Arcand) set a ‘June or July’ deadline for a new committee of experts he will name to study the unknown hazards of fracking… After announcing no new drilling and fracking only for ‘scientific’ purposes, Arcand turned around and said that continued fracking would be allowed at the 18 shale-gas wells in the province that have already been fracked, and new fracking could go ahead at another 13 wells that have been drilled but not yet fracked. …New regulations to tighten control over shale-gas exploration would be adopted quickly, Arcand said…”