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A copy of the letter, obtained by CBC, was signed by 11 people, six of whom are former members of Quebec's environmental protection agency. ((CBC))

A group of environmental experts and former members of Quebec's environmental protection agency, known as the BAPE, has written an open letter saying the agency will have a hard time fulfilling its mandate to review shale gas exploration in the province.

The letter laments the fact that the BAPE has been given only five months to submit a final report, without having any independent studies into the impact of shale gas exploration.

The principal document the agency has received on which to base its review is a report drafted by the provincial government.

The BAPE has been ordered to perform an in-depth assessment of the shale industry, and examine the concerns of the public in a neutral and independent manner, before submitting recommendations on how to oversee the industry by February of next year.

Eleven people have signed the letter, six of them are former members of the environmental review agency, including an ex-president and ex-vice-president of the BAPE.

The letter states that the way the shale gas issue is being pushed upon the agency risks exposing the BAPE itself to criticism and compromising its independence.

"If the BAPE doesn't respect the rules, or doesn't use its power, it risks losing its credibility, and that would be an enormous loss for the citizens who participate in good faith," one of the signatories and former vice-president of the BAPE, André Delisle, said.

The signatories provided an example of another review currently in progress on offshore hydrocarbon development in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. That review began in 2004 with scientific studies and public hearings, and the report on the environmental impact is expected to be finished by the end of 2011. 

BAPE is well-equipped: minister

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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))

The Liberals are steam-rolling through the consultation process, said Scott MacKay, PQ environment critic.

Quebec Natural Resources Minister, Nathalie Normandeau, in Montreal for the World Energy Congress Thursday, said that's not the case.

"The BAPE's commissioners have the tools and the independence to perform their task," Normandeau said. "We think the time frame is sufficient." Normandeau said.

The BAPE's public hearings into the issue begin on Oct. 4 in St-Hyacinthe, southeast of Montreal.

Residents in Bécancour and Saint-Édouard-de-Lotbinière, both communities near Trois-Rivières where exploratory drilling for shale gas has begun, are invited to participate in the hearings by video conference.