Quebec to ban shale gas fracking, tighten rules for oil and gas drilling

Quebec Energy Minister Pierre Moreau has announced new measures to prohibit shale gas fracking and ban drilling for oil and gas in a one-kilometre zone around urban areas, including Montreal.

New measures ban drilling for oil and gas in 1-km zone around urban areas, including Montreal

Quebec environmental groups and concerned citizens have called for a ban on shale gas fracking for several years. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec government is banning fracking for shale gas provincewide.

Pierre Moreau, the minister of energy and natural resources, announced a series of new measures to regulate oil and gas exploration Wednesday afternoon in Quebec City.

The ban on fracking for shale gas, he said, would protect the low-lying Lower St. Lawrence region in particular.

Under the new measures, which will amend Quebec's Petroleum Resources Act, passed in 2016, the government would also ban drilling for oil and gas in 13 waterways across the province.

That includes the Lake of Two Mountains, Lake Memphremagog and the St. Lawrence River, Moreau said.

"The story of the energy transition is being written, and these rules on hydrocarbons are part of that," Moreau said.

He said the government is approaching the issue with "caution."

Larger protection zone around schools, hospitals, homes

In urban areas where oil and gas exploration is already prohibited, the government plans to now extend that ban to a one-kilometre zone around those municipalities.

"This regulatory measure means that any exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons will be strictly banned on the entire surface of the island of Montreal and the island of Laval," Moreau said.

Energy Minister Pierre Moreau, pictured here in the National Assembly in 2016, said the government approached the new regulations 'with caution.' (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Outside these urban areas and the additional one-kilometre zones, the government also plans to increase the allowable distance between an oil well or gas drilling site and what Moreau called "sensitive" areas.

Wells will now need to be at least 300 metres from a private residence, at least 550 metres from a school, hospital or public building, and 200 metres from an ecotourism site, Moreau said.

The measures come after a previous set of amendments to the Petroleum Resources Act were strongly criticized by environmentalists and mayors as failing to protect water sources in the province.

Those earlier rules, proposed last year, were less strict on the distance between oil wells or gas drilling sites and hospitals or schools (275 metres), residential neighbourhoods (175 metres) and private homes (150 metres).

The government said it will take public comments on the new rules over the next 45 days.

Environmental groups express concern

Some environment groups are already responding, with Nature Québec saying in a statement the government is "on the wrong track."

"The new rules still put at risk water and natural environments located near the next drilling sites to be authorized," said Nature Québec's executive director, Christian Simard.

Simard called on the Liberal government not to pass any new regulations before the Oct. 1 provincial election, "to allow Quebecers to speak out on this important issue."

Équiterre's Steven Guilbeault said the Quebec government is 'not shutting the door on hydrocarbon development' in the province. (CBC)

Steven Guilbeault, Équiterre's senior director, said today's announcement appears to make it easier for municipalities to protect their citizens and water sources from the development of oil and gas resources too close to them.

However, he told CBC News it will take a few days to read the amendments carefully, and it remains "unclear whether or not, in the fine details, it will do that."

The Quebec government, Guilbeault stressed, is "not shutting the door on hydrocarbon development."

With files from CBC's Kristy Rich