Premier Pauline Marois announced Thursday that the Quebec government is taking control of oil exploration off the coast of Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence Gulf.

Marois and Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet announced the Quebec government will partner with three companies: Petrolia, Corridor Resources and Maurel & Prom. It also struck a partnership in principle with Junex

"Today, Quebec is taking back its rights on natural resources," Marois said.

She said the move was to help ensure Quebec's future independence from foreign oil. 

"The partnerships that we announced today, which covers almost all the permits of all of Anticosti Island, will allow us to know once and for all whether there is oil on this island in the St. Lawrence," Marois said.

Quebec to invest at least $70M

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The Mascaty shale rock that runs underneath Anticosti is rich in hydrocarbon deposits. (Radio-Canada)

Through Ressources Québec, a subsidiary of Investissement Québec, the provincial government will invest $70 million, for starters.

Marois says this joint venture model will enable the government to control nearly 50 per cent of the drilling permits on Anticosti Island, and more than 60 per cent of the profits made from oil exploration.

There will be two exploration programs, and each one will be divided into two phases:

  • to determine the type and amount of hydrocarbons present
  • to determine whether the use of these hydrocarbons is viable

Quebec’s natural resources minister Martine Ouellet promised a "structured and rigorous" approach to oil exploration, adding that the government will pay particular attention to the plan’s environmental impacts.

The possibility of developing the province's oil and natural gas industries has been the subject of much debate in recent years.

The government estimates that the province’s economy could gain up to $45 billion over the next 30 years in royalities, taxes and benefits if the project is a success.

Anticosti mayor surprised

Jean-François Boudreau, the mayor of Anticosti Island, said the announcement caught him off guard and that he never heard about the government’s joint venture plan.

In the past, Boudreau has expressed support for  oil exploration on Anticosti Island, where about 250 people live.

The mayor said he will look closely at Quebec’s plan and discuss it with council before commenting.

Meanwhile, business leaders say they are very pleased with the announcement.

"Our organization fully supports the development of the oil industry, both to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and to give Quebec’s economy a competitive advantage with a more secure energy supply,” said Simon Prévost, president of Manufacturers and Exporters of Quebec (MEQ).

“Whether it be to face the challenge of our debt or the aging of the population, relying on Quebec’s natural resources is an excellent strategy to overcome them,” agreed Françoise Bertrand, president of Quebec’s Federation of the Chambers of Commerce.