POLITICS

Quebecers visit Alberta to get 'crash course' on energy development

07/18/2012 06:58 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - Quebecers who to travelled to Alberta to learn about how the energy industry and landowners get along say they still have a lot of research to do before they're comfortable with oil and gas development in their province.

Twelve people participated in the industry-led, three-day tour, which included visits with farmers, businesses and regulators.

"I hear and understand very well the apprehension of my fellow citizens in Quebec," said Mario Levesque, president of the Oil and Gas Services Association of Quebec, one of the groups that organized the tour.

"We have seen with our eyes that there is an alternative to the confrontation...the dialogue is now open."

The oil and gas industry is relatively new to Quebec, where companies hope to extract natural gas from the promising Utica shale formation that underlies part of the province.

New natural gas development has been halted while a panel studies the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the method used to force natural gas out of the rock by injecting sand, chemicals and water underground at high pressure.

The tour was organized by the Oil and Gas Services Association of Quebec, aided by the Petroleum Services Association of Canada.

It received funding from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Questerre Energy Corp. (TSX:QEC), which has substantial landholdings in Quebec. Two mayors who took part paid their own way.

Pascal Grondin travelled from Thetford Mines, south of Quebec City, to take part in the tour. He lives just south of the area where drilling would take place.

He likened the trip to a "crash course" in the energy industry and said it was impossible to have all of his questions answered during such a condensed, intensive experience.

His biggest concerns were over fracking's impact on drinking water and the environment in general. He also wants to make sure Quebecers are fairly compensated if drilling takes place on their land.

Julie Robert, who has a blueberry farm south of Montreal, said she came to Alberta to have her personal concerns addressed, but she encouraged other concerned Quebecers and the provincial government to do the same.

"I have many questions about this. It's only an introduction around the shale gas," she said, adding she'll be returning home with many questions.

Chantal Beauregard-Favreau is the mayor of the town of Bethanie, Que., east of Montreal. It's not in the part of the Utica that would be drilled first, but she came on the tour because of general environmental concerns.

"I can't say I feel more comfortable with it," she said. "I can say I've got more information to put in the balance."

She said she'll seek out additional information from all possible sources when she gets home.

"My work is not done, that's for sure. My research is not over with, that's for sure. It doesn't end here," she said.

"We're not in a hurry in Quebec. We're not in a hurry to do this right tomorrow morning. So we have time to study and find out what are the best ways to do this."