A highly anticipated Quebec report has recommended that the province halt a controversial natural-gas drilling practice, pending further study.

Within minutes of releasing the report Tuesday, the Quebec government announced it would respect its findings.

The province's environment minister said the practice known as "fracking" will only proceed, for now, under the rubric of the environmental study and not for industrial purposes.

Environment Minister Pierre Arcand also announced that any new exploration will only be carried out after public consultations are held.

"We will not make any compromises on health, safety, or respect for the environment," Arcand said.

He called it the most important report in the 33-year history of the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, commonly known as the BAPE.

The report by the environmental impact-assessment bureau said the shale-gas industry should stop hydraulic fracturing until more is known about its environmental risks.

Fracturing, or "fracking," is an increasingly common method to extract natural gas trapped underground.

The process -- which uses a mixture of chemicals, sand and water blasted into subterranean wells -- has raised concerns from environmentalists.

There are currently 29 wells in Quebec. Eighteen use fracking.

Environmental concerns

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Quebec has granted dozens of oil and gas companies exploratory permits to drill in the lowlands along the St. Lawrence River. ((CBC))

Environmentalists have been calling for a moratorium on shale-gas development, saying the process needed to extract the gas poses serious risks.

But Quebec's oil and gas industry says the risks are slight compared to the potential economic benefits the industry could bring.

Quebec is home to one of the largest shale formations in North America, and supporters of the industry say it could bring $1 billion in annual royalties to the province.

Following a series of protests last summer, Arcand asked Quebec's bureau of public hearings into the environment to look into both the environmental and health impacts of shale-gas development.

The issue has continued to prove politically controversial.

In recent months, while the government said it was waiting for the study, local celebrities demanded a moratorium. Some exploratory wells were found to be leaking gas.

And there were reports from the U.S. of strange phenomena surrounding shale gas -- like frequent earthquakes.

Last week, in Arkansas, natural gas companies were ordered to temporarily stop injecting into wells after state authorities concluded the practice was linked to hundreds of earthquakes in the area in the past six months.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked Pennsylvania regulators to increase monitoring of wastewater discharges from the state's natural gas drilling industry.