Montreal

Quebec seeks to end oil exploration on Anticosti

After years of protests and political wrangling, the saga over oil and gas exploration on Anticosti Island appears to be nearing an end. The province is trying to reach a settlement to cancel its contract with the fossil fuel consortium behind the project.

Couillard government, long opposed to agreement inked by PQ, looks to reach settlement with consortium

A fisherman casts for salmon in Rivière à l'Huile in Anticosti. The island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been the site of a heated debate over oil exploration. (R. Rancourt/Creative Commons)

After years of protests and political wrangling, the saga over oil and gas exploration on Quebec's Anticosti Island may be finally coming to an end.

The Quebec government has confirmed it is trying to reach a deal with the consortium Hydrocarbures Anticosti to cancel the contract for the island in Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said Thursday the province has asked a law firm to negotiate a settlement, which could reportedly involve a payout of up to $200 million.

Leitao told reporters the government has set aside money for the deal but wouldn't provide a dollar figure.

Premier Philippe Couillard has long been an outspoken critic of the deal, which was inked three years ago by the former Parti Québécois government under Pauline Marois.

​Local leaders, First Nations and environmental groups have been resisting the project.

Anticosti's mayor has also been trying to designate the island a UNESCO heritage site to protect it from gas and oil drilling.

Company open to settlement

In a statement, Quebec City-based Pétrolia Inc., the leader of the consortium, said it's open to negotiating a fair settlement but is still convinced of the importance of the project.

"In our view, Anticosti remains and will always remain a major economic project that could potentially generate important spinoffs for Quebec," said Martin Bélanger, Pétrolia's interim CEO.

Pétrolia pointed out that the project was originally valued at $200 million by the province, and that if a settlement isn't reached it still expects the province to honour the agreement.

The PQ government announced the deal in 2014, only weeks before the provincial election, in a bid to make the province more energy independent. It also invested $115 million to help jumpstart oil exploration on the island.

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