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Quebec legislature paves way for new oil, gas exploration

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The Quebec legislature has passed comprehensive energy legislation that would create ambitious new clean energy goals but also open up the province to oil and gas exploration.

Bill 106, introduced to the National Assembly in June, creates a new agency to promote Quebec’s transition to cleaner energy as well as includes the Petroleum Resources Act (PRA), which lays out the government’s plan to oversee sustainable development of oil and gas resources.

The bill passed 62 to 38 after a marathon legislative session December 10.  The bill was passed after the Couillard government invoked the controversial maneuver known as “closure”, which cuts off debate and forces the bill to a vote, drawing widespread criticism from environmental groups and opposition lawmakers.

“It’s despicable to use the closure to adopt a law that has no sense of urgency,” said Carole Dupuis of the environmental group Regroupement vigilance hydrocarbures Quebec.

The PRA establishes a system for licensing and authorizing the exploration and production of oil and gas, which had previously been regulated by the Mining Act.  It also creates an energy transition fund for the payment of petroleum royalties to landowners.      

While the Canadian National Energy Board says that Quebec produces very little in the way of oil and gas, the province does hold enough gas to meet its own needs for about 100 years.  Most of the gas is deposited in the Utica shale formation or underneath Anticosti Island, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Critics of the legislation argued the bill’s mandate was contradictory.  While the bill authorized the creation of a new agency, Energy Transition Quebec, which would be charged with implementing the government’s clean energy goals, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 37.5 percent by 2030, the establishment of the PRA would directly undermine that agency’s ability to do so.  Critics also questioned why there was such a rush to pass the bill without giving citizens a chance to weigh in.

“This is obviously a way for the government to please the industry,” Patrick Bonin, a spokesman for Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign, according to the Montreal Gazette. “There is no reason why this bill was passed under the false claim from the government that there is urgency.”

There is also concern the bill would strip away Aboriginal Rights and Title, including treaty rights.  Richard Jeannotte, legal counsel for the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, said that the bill would overturn a temporary moratorium on drilling in the Bay of Chaleurs and the Bay of Gaspe.

“Bill 106 represents a clear statement from the Quebec Government that provincial legislation is there to protect oil and gas companies even if that means infringing on Aboriginal Rights and Title.”

Pierre Arcand, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, downplayed concerns over the passage of the PRA, and said that the government’s first priority will be to create Energy Transition Quebec, according to CBC.

“Our goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 37.5 per cent by 2030. We should have a new organization in place and fully functional by April,” he said.

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