The Quebec government has ordered the province's environment assessment agency – BAPE – to study shale gas development.

Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet said the BAPE is best positioned to determine the potential impact of "fracking" in populated areas where ground water could be affected.

In the meantime, Blanchet said he's bringing in legislation to place a moratorium on fracking and shale gas exploration in central Quebec.

"In order to have the most reliable results that we can get, in order to get through the whole process and manage this whole issue once and for all, we needed to entrust the BAPE with this consultation," he said.

The moratorium will be in effect until new legislation is put in place to regulate the shale-gas industry, said Blanchet.

"It's only being logical. I do not presume the results of this report and what the report will say. In the meantime, if we were to allow exploitation or exploration, it wouldn't be very logical because we don't know what would be the result," he said.

Former Liberal minister Pierre Arcand had ordered a committee of experts to evaluate an environmental strategy.

The committee was formed following the publication of a report from BAPE about sustainability and Quebec's shale-gas industry.

There have been no fracking or extraction projects authorized since then, except for those completed for scientific reasons.

Environmental group Équiterre said it is pleased with the Parti Québécois' decision.

"If you look at what is printed in the scientific literature, there's a lot of unanswered questions. There are a lot of things we're unsure of and I think it's the prudent thing to do right now. The gas --- if we really need it  and we can find a way of doing it safely – is there. It's not going anywhere," said Steven Guilbeault, the organization's deputy director.

The government said citizens will have a chance to weigh in with their comments and concerns once the impact studies are done by the end of the year.

The National Assembly will craft its legislation to control the industry following the public's response.

With files from The Canadian Press