How Anticosti became the centre of a debate over oil and gas exploration,
‘We’re going to protect that unique ecosystem, I can tell you that,’ Premier Philippe Couillard says by Benjamin Shingler with files from The Canadian Press, July 6, 2-16, CBC News
Plans to drill for oil and gas on an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has made Premier Philippe Couillard the target of environmentalists, with one group calling his decision to go ahead with the project “illogical and unacceptable.”
Couillard has repeatedly said he’s bound by an agreement signed by the previous Parti Québécois government to allow for testing in Anticosti, a rocky, 200-kilometre stretch of land known for its salmon fishing.
The deal with Quebec City-based Petrolia Inc. was inked shortly before the 2014 election.
Quebec will respect Petrolia drilling contract
“The contract is there. We have to follow it,” Couillard said Tuesday at a news conference in Montreal.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re happy. We’re going to protect that unique ecosystem, I can tell you that.”
The exploratory drilling involves fracking, a controversial practice where a mixture is pumped deep underground in order to crack rocks and release natural gas, which risks affecting the water table.
In a statement, Petrolia said Wednesday it’s committed to working with Anticosti residents and being completely transparent about its plans.
Species at risk?
The province’s Environment Ministry confirmed this week that Petrolia will be allowed to draw a total of 30 million litres of water at three testing sites.
Most of that water will be drawn from rivers on the island, which could put local endangered salmon populations at risk, Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper reported.
Anticosti, which is more than 200 kilometres in length, is home to numerous rivers and streams and is a popular destination for salmon fishing. (R. Rancourt/Creative Commons )
The wastewater will be treated on site by an unknown method, then released directly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Patrick Bonin, a spokesman for Greenpeace Quebec, slammed Premier Philippe Couillard for backtracking on the file.
“He said he did not want to exploit oil, but allows the exploration, the use of hydraulic fracturing at high risk in a fragile environment, with endangered species,” Bonin told The Canadian Press.
The province announced in March it would honour the agreement with Petrolia, as long as it met environmental standards.
That decision came only four months after Couillard told CBC News he was prepared to pull the plug on the project, saying “the destruction of natural environment like Anticosti will not bear my signature.”
Hopes for energy independence
The agreement for oil and gas exploration dates back to February 2014.
Less than a month before calling an election, then-premier Pauline Marois announced deals between the province and Petrolia, Corridor Resources and Maurel & Prom.
“Today, Quebec is taking back its rights on natural resources,” Marois said at the time, adding that the move was aimed at ensuring Quebec’s future independence from foreign oil.
Candidates in the current PQ leadership race have struck a very different tone.
Jean-François Lisée, Véronique Hivon, Martine Ouellet and Alexandre Cloutier have all come out against exploratory drilling on the island.
Lisée, a top member of the PQ government that made the deal, said last month the circumstances were very different in 2014, and the drop in the price of oil now makes the project less appealing.
The Drilldown: Ottawa not consulted on Quebec water fracking plan, DFO has jurisdiction over salmon habitat where water will be extracted by James Munson, July 5th, 2016, ipolitics
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has jurisdiction over salmon habitat in the river where the water will be extracted. The Quebec government is an investor in the petroleum project that is set to use the water for fracking.
Anticosti Island Drilled And Fracked With Salmon River Water: 30 million liters of water for 3 drilling sites translation of Le Devoir article by Amis du Richelieu, July 4, 2016
The water will come from endangered salmon rivers then thrown back into the Gulf of St. Lawrence
Quebec authorized the withdrawal of more than 30 million liters of water from Anticosti rivers for the drilling of the first three wells that will be fracked on the island, learned Le Devoir. The majority of the water will come from rivers with a population of endangered salmon. As for the wastewater, it will be treated on site with a still unknown method then thrown back directly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Environment Ministry finally accepted to give details, but only after an official request, about the “maximum quantities” of water that could be used for each of the three wells that are part of the search of oil and shale gas research. This work is mostly financed by the Quebec state should start this summer to be completed in 2017.
The first well, called “Canard” – duck- , could be done with 10.57 million of liters of water. The second one, called “La Loutre” – the otter – , could pump up to 11.15 million of liters of water from on of the rivers chosen by the Environment Ministry. Then, the well named “Jupiter”, drilled near the salmon river with the same name, will have the right to a maximum of 9 million liters.
In all, the Quebec government authorized the withdrawal of 30,720,000 liters of water from rivers recognized for the quality of their water. In comparison, such a quantity of water is equal to the amount needed to fill 10 Olympic sized pools, or a total of 1,000 tankers.
The 30 million liters of water planned to do the drilling just represent a very small portion of water that will be necessary if ever the exploitation of fossil fuels of Anticosti goes ahead. As per the results of the strategic environmental assessment (EES) done by the government, “a total of about 4155 wells” could be necessary for this stage of the work that could go on for more than 50 years. For each of the wells, the volume of water needed could reach 16 million of liters, as per the EES.
But the island rivers could absolutely not be enough to answer demand that would go beyond 45 billion liters, or 15,000 Olympic pools. The EES report published at the end of May suggested “using water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence”, if not, propane gas.
When it authorized the three exploratory wells planned by the contract signed by the Quebec government, the Environment Ministry named the three rivers that could be used to pump the water. Two of them, the Jupiter and the Sainte-Marie, have Atlantic Salmon populations. The island salmon is classified as endangered by the COSEWIC.
Still, the Couillard government authorized the withdrawal of water from the most important river of the island, the Jupiter, that holds nearly 30% of all the Anticosti salmon. This river is famous for its fishing. The Quebec society for outdoor activities, the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec, boasting the “unequaled limpidity” of its waters, sells fishing packages for $6,000.
The enormous volumes of wastewater from the drilling will then be treated directly on Anticosti Island. The “authorization” given out on June 15 by David Heurtel, the Environment Minister, mentions very little about the treatment process.
The document simply mentions that for now an unidentified “supplier” will have to put up “a treatment system” to decontaminate the wastewater that could include many toxic products. This system, among other things, will have to be able to treat wastewater “full of solid matter” up to a certain concentration that is not specified.
The discharge will have to respect the standards mentioned in the “provisional” rules established by Quebec for the exploitation of oil and gas. The document does not mention the dispositions of the Bill on hydrocarbons that has not been passed yet.
If many elements about the treatment of wastewater still need to be clarified, we already know that millions of liters will end up in the St. Lawrence. “The wastewater will be discharged in the Gulf after treatment”, says the Environment Ministry in an answer received two weeks after a request from Le Devoir.
As per the geographic coordinates mentioned in the authorization given in the name of Minister Heurtel, three discharge points are planned. All of them are on the south shore of the island, famous for its marine biodiversity. Everything leaves us to understand that a discharge location will even be directly in the estuary of the Jupiter River. Great concentrations of marine birds can be found at this site, and marine mammals also.
Biologist Sylvain Archambault, from the Société pour la nature et les parcs, the government decision to authorise the withdrawal of 30 million liters is a serious mistake.
“It is inconceivable to allow withdrawals of such a magnitude from salmon habitat, an endangered species on Anticosti, and even worse from rivers with already low flows, he says, after learning of the information obtained by Le Devoir. What about Quebec’s responsibilities towards endangered species?”
Jupiter River has long been a candidate “as a region of interest for a protected area”, he say. “When Anticosti has only 7,7% in protected land, well under the 17% for 2020, the Quebec objective. The Ministry is clearly giving precedence to the oil industry.”
It is the on-site operator, Petrolia, that will oversee the operations in the name of the Société en commandite Hydrocarbures Anticosti. The Quebec State is the main financial backer of this exploration project, with a minimal investment of $57.7 million.