Municipalities, protect your sources of drinking water! translation of Municipalités, protégez vos sources d’eau potable! by Amie du Richelieu, July 21, 2014
Translation of an open letter from the Mayor of the town caught up in a legal case against Gastem.
These days, companies show up where we live looking for hydrocarbons to extract. Some of their activities could endanger our sources of drinking water that we need for our citizens and our farmers. Without any oversight from the Quebec government, dozens of Quebec municipalities have taken things into their own hands and voted in bylaws that impose separation distances between oil activities and sources of drinking water. In the very mediatized case of Gaspé, and now Ristigouche, it is obvious that many oil companies want to force through legal procedures their profit ambitions at the expense of the elected officials and the citizens that must protect a fundamental common good: water.
Here is a message to the municipalities that still do not have a bylaw to protect their sources of water: do not wait and act now before an oil company gets to you first.
The Ristigouche case
A small hamlet of 168 citizens, Ristigouche saw an oil company, Gastem, invade its territory in 2011. With permit in hand from the Natural Resources Ministry dated July 2012, the company starts preparation work by building a drilling platform and settling ponds. The community is concerned and in 2013, a group of citizens take action. A petition, signed by 92 landowners was presented to the municipal council who on March 4 2013, passes the bylaw to protect drinking water in its territory.
The Ristigouche bylaw is based on the first of its kind in Quebec, the one called the “Saint-Bonaventure” bylaw. It is about a minimum separation distance of 2km radius between a residential well for 20 people or less and any drilling operation. Furthermore, it bans all introduction of any substance susceptible of contaminating the water table. Even though it can keep on doing its work outside the protection perimeter, the oil company considers this an obstacle and files an intend to sue in May 2013, and in August, a request for damages of $1,5 million against the municipality, an amount that is 5,5 times its annual budget. Ristigouche, just like many other municipalities in Quebec, does not have the means to deal with this kind of intimidation.
The Ristigouche case shows very well how Quebec municipalities should pass a bylaw to protect their drinking water sources before oil or gas companies show up in their territory. Up to now, more than 70 Quebec municipalities have passed this bylaw, but hundreds more are exposed to the same difficulties in case an oil or gas company shows up. Municipalities that delay make themselves vulnerable and could find themselves in a similar situation. In this matter, prevention is the word. Ristigouche can now testify to this!
Quebec is pussyfooting
The Quebec government’s inaction to protect drinking water sources, when it comes to oil and gas companies (and anything else, as far as I’m concerned!) is telling on how it values our drinking water. Promises to regulate protection of water sources are forever postponed by the State. Since 2011 under the Charest government, then under the Marois government, and now under Philippe Couillard, more than 31 months have gone by without any bill on water withdrawal and protection. Up until very recently, the new Environment Minister David Heurtel reassured us and promised a new Quebec regulation that would be published by the end of June 2014. That deadline has not been respected either, and the filing of the bill is delayed once again.
If the Law confirming the collective nature of water and intending to reinforce its protection, passed in 2009, made Quebec the “guardian of the water resource interest of the nation” (in the introduction of the law), one has to realize that without a regulation, the Quebec state is still wanting. But for what? Water or oil?
Without this Quebec regulation that is still in the making, it is the municipalities’ duty to insure the protection of drinking water sources of their citizens. Ristigouche is sending out a call for solidarity: stand up citizens! step up municipalities! Use your municipal competence and act by passing your own bylaw to protect YOUR water.
May the message be clear and sent to the Quebec State: the thirst to satisfy and that must come first, it is the thirst for water, and not the oil companies’ interests. It is up to us, now! [Emphasis added]