Que. seeks rights to Old Harry energy deposit

Quebec's natural resources minister wants to ensure the province reaps revenues from Old Harry, a reservoir rich in fossil fuels near the Newfoundland and Labrador border.

Quebec's natural resources minister says she will present a plan to the federal government that would give the province exclusive rights to a disputed underwater energy deposit.

Nathalie Normandeau wants to ensure the province reaps revenues from Old Harry, a reservoir rich in fossil fuels near the Newfoundland and Labrador border.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence site has been at the centre of a feud between the two provinces for years.

Normandeau said Thursday the province's territorial integrity is at the heart of a potential agreement with Ottawa on energy resources.

"We're going to speed up the pace in the coming days, coming weeks," she told a news conference in Quebec City.

Windfall worth billions

The Old Harry reservoir, which straddles the border of Quebec and Newfoundland, could represent a windfall of several billion dollars for Quebec and ensure its energy independence.

It has a potential output of two billion barrels of oil and 5,000 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The dispute between Quebec and Newfoundland is twofold — one part covers the ownership of the seabed and the other the territorial divide between Quebec and Newfoundland.

According to the currently recognized boundaries, two-thirds of the reservoir is located in Quebec and the rest is in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's interested in arranging an offshore resources agreement with Quebec, much like the one Ottawa has with Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The seismic work being undertaken is a decision made independently by an independent agency," Harper said Thursday in St. John's, referring to the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Resources Board.

"The government of Quebec has expressed interest in having a similar arrangement for its offshore resources and the government of Canada is very much interested in having discussions with Quebec to establish that kind of arrangement."

The deal between the federal government and Newfoundland and Labrador has Ottawa owning the seabed but revenues go to the province.

Seeking halt

Earlier this week, Normandeau called on Ottawa to stop any new drilling and seismic testing permits for Old Harry until ongoing environmental studies have been completed.

The environmental work is scheduled for completion in 2012.

Normandeau said the matter is urgent because a permit has already been awarded for Old Harry.

The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Resources Board granted a permit to allow a Halifax-based company to conduct seismic testing at the site.