Quebec denies TransCanada approval to resume work in Cacouna

Quebec's environment ministry is refusing to allow TransCanada to resume preliminary drilling work in Cacouna, despite the expiry of a temporary court injunction Wednesday.

Environment ministry says it's not persuaded pipeline company will respect noise levels to protect belugas

People demonstrate to save the belugas and stop the TransCanada Cacouna pipeline terminal project, outside the National Assembly in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's environment ministry is refusing to allow TransCanada to resume preliminary drilling work in Cacouna, saying it's not satisfied the oil-and-gas giant will respect the noise levels set to protect the local beluga population.

TransCanada had said that it expected to resume exploratory work tomorrow for its planned construction of a deep-water oil-shipping port at Cacouna, now that a temporary court injunction has expired.

The company said last Friday that it was complying with the province's demands, after the ministry issued a non-compliance order insisting that the company take further measures to reduce noise at the work site north of Rivière-du-Loup on Lower St. Lawrence.

The ministry also told the company Friday it had to further restrict boat traffic in the port, to limit potential disturbance to the belugas congregating in that part of the St. Lawrence River.

Environmental groups rallying

Environmental groups hoisted a large, inflatable beluga at a protest against the pipeline near the National Assembly on Wednesday. The groups were there to hand over an online petition against the Cacouna project with 32,000 names to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

"What we're showing today is that there's no acceptability for this project in Quebec," said Patrick Bonin of the group Greenpeace.

"Since the permit was given under conditions that I describe as absolutely illegal and illegitimate, it should simply be abandoned and the company not allowed to resume drilling," said the scientific director of the National Institute of Ecotoxicology Saint-Laurent, Pierre Béland.  

Opponents of the project intend to be at the port of Cacouna once again on Thursday, to witness what happens next.

No comment from the minister

Environment Minister David Heurtel declined to answer reporters' questions about the TransCanada project as he left Wednesday's cabinet meeting.

However, some of his colleagues did comment.

"Our role is to see what are the pros and cons. And we still have almost a year to get an idea of ​ the whole project," said Pierre Arcand, the minister of energy and natural resources. 

The project is in the Rivière-du-Loup riding of Liberal MNA Jean d'Amour, who admits it's a divisive issue.

"TransCanada has a communication challenge with the community. And it's non-negotiable that TransCanada must comply with all requirements," he said.