A group of anti-shale-gas activists arrived in Montreal on Saturday after more than 30 days walking from Rimouski. They joined thousands in a march through the city to ask Quebec's premier to impose a moratorium on shale gas development.

The group left May 16 and has walked 600 kilometres. Organizer Philippe Duhamel said the group has a message for Premier Jean Charest.

"We want to send a message that this government needs to put this whole industry on hold at least for 20 years, until we know what's happening to these 450-million-year-old formations that we're destroying in order to extract gas."

Shale gas is extracted from beneath the earth's surface through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The problem is that fracking can cause gas and other chemicals to be released into groundwater, including into people's wells. In some of the worst cases, residents near shale gas drilling get gravely ill, while others can sometimes light their gas-infused tap water on fire. 

'What we want is a 20-year moratorium. A moratorium for a generation.' —Jason Rivest, protester

"Shale gas development is simply an abomination," said Jason Rivest, one of about 50 people taking part in the march to Montreal. "What we want is a 20-year moratorium. A moratorium for a generation." He said that is the minimum amount of time needed to have a proper discussion about Quebec's energy future.

Saturday's protest march brought together environmental, scientific and community organizations, as well as Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois and Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir. The demonstration culminated in front of the headquarters of Hydro-Québec.

"They are asking for an independent and credible expert panel, a total halt to fracking and we want the whole evaluation process to be independent, credible and transparent," said André Bélisle, president of the environment group Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique.

In March the Quebec government said it would respect the findings of a report by the province's environmental-impact assessment bureau, commonly known as the BAPE, which recommended a halt to hydraulic fracturing until a study into its environmental impact is complete.