Quebec steps in to mediate Gaspé's oil drilling standoff

The Quebec government is stepping in to mediate a quarrel between an oil exploration company and the Town of Gaspé, which has brought a halt to drilling with a new bylaw.

Pétrolia threatens to leave the region

The Town of Gaspé said the Quebec government's laws were not strict enough to protect water and land resources, so it adopted its own bylaw. (CBC)

The Quebec government is stepping in to help mediate a quarrel between a petroleum exploration company and the Town of Gaspé, which has brought planned drilling to a halt with a new bylaw.

Quebec-based Pétrolia was supposed to begin drilling at the Haldiman 4 well last Tuesday.

But the well is just 350 metres from some Gaspé residences, which means drilling operations would contravene a bylaw adopted by the town last December.

The regulation forbids companies from drilling within 10 kilometres of the town's water supply and at least two kilometres from any town well.

Gaspé is located on the shores of the Saint-Lawrence River on the Gaspé peninsula, and Mayor François Roussy said the town is worried about the impact drilling could have on water sources.

Pétrolia's president, André Proulx,  said his company is losing $50,000 each day the drilling is delayed.

He said the exploration program is an important economic stepping stone for Quebec and for Gaspé's economy, but the company will abandon the region if no agreement can be reached with the town.

Proulx met Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet on Friday, and Ouellet said she understands the economic benefits that oil drilling could bring to the region and to the province, but she also recognizes the importance of protecting water resources.

"We want to work in the next few days on a solution with the company, with the municipality and with the three ministers of the government — the minister of natural resources, environment and the minister responsible for the region of Gaspé."

Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet has also expressed his support for Gaspé's position but said he believes the town and Pétrolia will come to an agreement.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said Thursday she is committed to solving the standoff between the two parties.

"Can we ask more from Pétrolia? Does the municipality have reasons to be worried?" she said. "We will look at concrete, scientific and social [data]... If there are real problems, what can we do to solve them?"

A meeting is planned for next week which the three cabinet ministers, town officials and representatives of Pétrolia are all expected to attend.