The Quebec government is imposing a moratorium on any oil or gas exploration in the fragile St. Lawrence Estuary, CBC/Radio-Canada has learned.
Early results from a study by the provincial Natural Resources Department indicate exploratory drilling would be devastating for the fish and wildlife that live in the estuary, the stretch of the St. Lawrence basin that runs from Quebec City to Anticosti Island.
The government is expected to announce Monday that no exploratory permits for the seabed will be issued until at least 2012, when two studies — one on the estuary and the other on the Gulf of St. Lawrence — will be complete.
The waters of the St. Lawrence Estuary are home to 27,000 fish and wildlife species, including several threatened and endangered mammals such as St. Lawrence belugas, right whales and blue whales. The estuary, which is fed by salt and fresh water, is a major feeding ground for marine mammals that migrate to the area before breeding season.
'Drilling in the high seas is one thing, but it's another thing to drill in an estuary where we are talking about 27,000 species of wildlife.' —Martin Poirier, environmentalist
The energy industry believes the area would be a rich source of oil and gas, with oil reserves estimated at two billion barrels.
Environmentalist Martin Poirier said it's not surprising the government would temporarily put on the brakes.
"Drilling in the high seas is one thing, but it's another thing to drill in an estuary where we are talking about 27,000 species of wildlife," he said.
This summer, Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau hinted the government would delay issuing permits if the preliminary study raised too many alarms.
The government has already given out several permits for oil and gas exploration on some islands in the St. Lawrence Estuary, according to reports.
Montreal-based newspaper Le Devoir reported Monday that permits have been issued for Île d'Orléans, Île Verte and Île aux Coudres in the western end.
At 800 kilometres in length, the St. Lawrence Estuary is one of the world’s largest estuaries.