Oil companies sue communities over water protection bylaws in Quebec

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow tweets, "Oil company suing Quebec town for trying to protect its water! Big oil has too much power!"

Le Devoir reports on the village of Restigouche-Partie-Sud-Est in Quebec being sued over a municipal bylaw to protect its water from oil exploration projects.

In November 2011, a Montreal-based company called Gastem Inc. announced its intention to conduct exploratory drilling near the village. In July 2012 the company received permission from the Quebec government and completed the construction of a drilling platform. In March 2013, the city council adopted a law prohibiting drilling within two kilometres of a water source. But by August 2013 the company filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the village in Superior Court.

A month before launching this lawsuit, Gastem sold its exploration licenses to Petrolia, a Quebec City-based energy company. And although Petrolia doesn't appear interested in pursuing drilling at this time, it is pursuing the lawsuit. The village wants to protect its water, but is not in a position to pay this $1.5 million lawsuit should it lose. Its tax revenues in 2014 were just $121,700.

François Boulay, the mayor the village, says, "We barely 168 inhabitants dependent on artesian wells or surface water. Without this water, do we stay here? No, we could not. But we have, in 2014, to take all possible steps to protect our water. And for that, we must deliver a legal battle with fees that are outrageous."

The mayor is concerned that should Gastem/ Petrolia win their lawsuit, it will create a dangerous precedent for the more than 70 Quebec municipalities that have passed similar water protection regulations.

Barlow also tweets, "Not the first time big oil has taken on communities in Quebec. Shocking!"

This past February, the Superior Court of Quebec struck down a municipal bylaw adopted by the town of Gaspé to protect its drinking water from oil drilling by Pétrolia. The court said that the town infringed on provincial jurisdiction when it passed the bylaw.

The Globe and Mail reported, "The bylaw prohibited the introduction into the ground of any substance that could have an impact on the quality of underground or surface water within 10 kilometres from a municipal surface water site." The company's drilling site is just 800 metres from the nearest water well and 350 metres from homes.

After the ruling, Gaspé mayor Daniel Côté commented, "The priority for us has always been the protection of residents’ drinking water. Therefore, more than ever, we would like the Quebec government to react quickly and we ask that it move rapidly to adopt the water-protection law it has been promising for more than a year."

The Council of Canadians stands with communities seeking to defend their water and encourages communities across the country and around the world to become a blue community.