David Heurtel casts doubt on TransCanada port at Cacouna

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel says TransCanada's plan to build an oil shipping port at Cacouna, Que. will not be permitted if it does not meet environmental and other standards.

Environment Minister promises permit process review after judge rules mistakes were made

Environment Minister David Heurtel says the ministry is waiting for a new proposal from TransCanada that would minimize possible impacts on beluga whales in the St. Lawrence. (CBC)

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel says TransCanada's plan to build an oil shipping port at Cacouna, Que. will not be permitted if it does not meet the environmental and other standards.

Heurtel was responding to criticism levelled against his ministry after a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled earlier this week that it had erred in granting TransCanada a permit to conduct exploratory drilling in the St. Lawrence River off Cacouna.

All of these aspects must find satisfactory answers or, let me be clear, there will be no project in Quebec,- Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel

The judge issued a temporary injunction, prohibiting further work at the site until Oct. 15. 

The drilling is intended to check soil composition in the seabed in preparation for building the port, which is part of TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project.

Judge Claudine Roy ruled that the ministry granted the permit without adequate information as to its potential impacts on the environment.

Lawyers representing the David Suzuki Foundation, Nature Quebec, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Quebec Centre for Environmental Law had filed an injunction to stop the drilling, saying the project threatens a nursing ground for beluga whales.

The deep-water St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population is at risk of extinction and is protected under the Species At Risk Act. 

On Thursday, Heurtel said the permit issued to TransCanada included strict parameters to protect the belugas.

He said a regional director gave the permit the go-ahead and promised to review the process.

Quebec's environmental review board is scheduled to study the port project, Heurtel said, which will only be allowed to continue if it is deemed safe for both the environment and local communities.

"All the questions that have been raised — with regards to the belugas, with regards to greenhouse gas emissions, security concerns, the public acceptance of the project — all of these aspects must find satisfactory answers or, let me be clear, there will be no project in Quebec," Heurtel told CBC News.

TransCanada says it intends to resume its drilling work at Cacouna as soon as the injunction expires on October 15.

The environmental groups, however, want to halt the project permanently.