MONTREAL - Within 24 hours of taking office, the new Parti Quebecois government slammed the door on two controversial industries and dropped a hint about shutting down a third.

The government moved to shore up its environmental credibility by promising to shut down an aging nuclear plant that is the only one in Quebec; reiterating plans to scrap a loan that would revive the province's last asbestos mine; and suggesting that the shale gas industry might never be allowed to operate.

At the same time Premier Pauline Marois sought to mollify critics who feared her government might hurt the economy.

Some punditry since she took office has suggested her new cabinet is too heavy with social activists and not business-friendly enough. Marois opened her first news conference as premier with a promise of fiscal sobriety. She said she intends to erase the provincial deficit by 2013-14.

"I would like to underline that for my government, budgetary rigour is non-negotiable," Marois said in Quebec City.

"I would like to remind you that in 2001 I was the first finance minister to pay down part of the debt, therefore I intend to pursue this same goal."

In addition to the promises on asbestos and nuclear power, and hints about shale gas, Marois also announced plans to move ahead with the PQ campaign pledge to redraw Quebec's northern-development plan. The party has promised, among other changes, to increase royalties paid by mining companies.

Such moves could provide more fodder for pundits expressing alarm about the makeup of her cabinet.

The group of ministers includes two people who spearheaded the Quebec Green party and a natural-resources minister — the government's point person for mining and energy development — who's been an active environmentalist for more than a decade.

Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet raised eyebrows Thursday by hinting about a long-term ban on the province's fledgling, and contentious, shale-gas industry.

Ouellet said she didn't believe the method of extracting natural gas from shale, known as "fracking," can ever be done safely.

"I don't foresee a day when there will be technology that will allow safe exploitation (of shale gas)," Ouellet said before her first-ever cabinet meeting.

Marois tried to downplay Ouellet's comments after the inaugural meeting of her cabinet. She said any future decisions would be based on environmental studies that have yet to begin.

Under political pressure, the former Liberal government halted shale-gas exploration last year to conduct more studies on the ecological risks.

That environmental-review process was expected to take a couple of years. Now Ouellet is reiterating her party's campaign promise to hold broad environmental public hearings on the risks of the sector, on top of the ongoing review.

Until then, she wants the industry to remain idle.

"Our position is very clear: we want a complete moratorium, not only on exploitation but also on exploration of shale gas," Ouellet said. "We haven't changed our minds."

Those remarks earned her a rebuke from the last leader of her own party.

Andre Boisclair, a former PQ leader and environment minister who is now a consultant for Calgary energy company Questerre (TSX:QEC), said Ouellet appears uninformed about an industry that he insists has proven elsewhere in Canada that it can operate safely.

"Does it mean that Albertans aren't doing it in a safe way and that the technology that they use isn't ready yet?" Boisclair told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

"When they hear Martine Ouellet's comments, you know, they'll jump to the ceiling."

Questerre has large investments in Quebec and hopes to eventually exploit gas deposits here.

Boisclair, who led the PQ from 2005 to 2007, said that 30 per cent of the natural gas now used in Quebec comes from unconventional sources, such as shale, outside the province.

"I think that the minister will regret (her statement) and that she'll have no choice but to re-examine her beliefs on this question," he said.

When asked whether he thought Marois' cabinet was as friendly to business as past PQ cabinets, Boisclair replied: "Well, we'll see."

Critics of the shale-gas industry fear that the method of exploiting the resource will create serious environmental problems — including the contamination of drinking water and the heavy use of water resources.

The industry insists that extraction chemicals are only used in small doses and the chances of them seeping into the environment are very slim.

Analysts, meanwhile, have called shale gas a potential economic game-changer.

The industry has boasted that the provincial government, which is saddled with public debt, would reap annual royalties of $1 billion from shale gas development. Since exploration began in 2008, close to 30 wells have been opened in Quebec.

But opposition to the shale-gas sector has been passionate in this province, prompting tumultuous public hearings and large demonstrations. One protest last year saw thousands of demonstrators march through Montreal to call for a 20-year moratorium.

The response has been much different in Western Canada, where shale-gas industries have flourished in both Alberta and British Columbia over the past decade.

There are regional differences, however.

Existing shale-gas plays in Western Canada sit in sparsely populated areas, and in many places, residents there have grown accustomed to the industry's presence.

Many of the plays in Quebec are located around the St. Lawrence River, an area which is not only more densely populated, but also takes up part of the province's agricultural heartland.

Marois also announced Thursday that she will shut down the aging Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor in Becancour and create a $200 million fund to diversify the region's economy.

She also promised to push ahead with her plans to scrap a $58-million loan to Jeffrey Mine, which would revive the last asbestos mine in the country.

Her decision to cancel the loan could signal the death knell of an industry that once helped build entire towns in different parts of Canada.

The federal government, blaming the PQ, has already said it will stop trying to defend asbestos on the international stage from the many critics who link the product to cancer.

While announcing the policy change, the Harper Tories accused the PQ of harming the economy of the asbestos-producing region.

In fact, the economic message appears to be part of a broader campaign by the Harper government.

In response to habitual attacks from the PQ, which hopes to take Quebec out of Canada, the Tories have sought to divert the conversation to what some perceive as the new provincial government's Achilles' heel.

That theme was laid out in an email from the Prime Minister's Office, accidentally sent to reporters on Parliament Hill on Thursday.

The note from the PMO contained so-called "talking points" for Tories when asked to comment on the new Quebec government.

"We do not believe that Quebecers wish to revisit the old constitutional battles of the past," said the email. "Our government will remain focused on jobs, economic growth and sound management of the economy."

-With a file from Patrice Bergeron in Quebec City

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  • PRO: Potential Energy Independence

    Estimates by the <a href="http://www.eia.gov/pub/oil_gas/natural_gas/data_publications/crude_oil_natural_gas_reserves/current/pdf/arrsummary.pdf" target="_hplink">United States Department of Energy</a> put the number of recoverable barrels of shale gas at around 1.8 trillion. To put that into perspective, Saudi Arabia is estimated to have roughly <a href="http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/data_graphs/330.htm" target="_hplink">2.6 trillion barrels of oil reserves</a>. Christopher Booker writes for <em>The Telegraph</em><a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/8500496/Shale-gas-could-solve-the-worlds-energy-problems.html" target="_hplink"></a> that there are enough world reserves to "keep industrialised civilisation going for hundreds of years"

  • CON: Water Pollution

    A <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html" target="_hplink">blog post by the Natural Resource Defense Council</a> explains that "Opponents of such regulation [of fracking] claim that hydraulic fracturing has never caused any drinking water contamination. They say this because incidents of drinking water contamination where hydraulic fracutring is considered as a suspected cause have not been sufficiently investigated." It then goes on to list more than two dozen instances of water pollution to which hydraulic fracking is believed to have contributed. A <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20111104/gasfrac-propane-natural-gas-drilling-hydraulic-fracturing-fracking-drinking-water-marcellus-shale-new-york" target="_hplink">new waterless method of fracking</a> has been proposed, but environmentalists are skeptical.

  • CON: Leaks More Emissions Than Coal

    Methane is a greenhouse gas and <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#enviroimpacts" target="_hplink">major component of shale's carbon footprint</a>. Cornell Professor Robert Howarth said about a study he conducted, "Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years."

  • PRO: Burns Cleaner Than Other Fossil Fuels

    <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=natural-gas-could-serve-as-bridge-fuel-to-low-carbon-future" target="_hplink">Researchers at MIT found that</a> replacing coal power plants with natural gas plants could work as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 50 percent.

  • CON: Hydraulic Fracking Has Been Linked To Earthquakes

    <a href="http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/U.S.-Government-Confirms-Link-Between-Earthquakes-and-Hydraulic-Fracturing.html" target="_hplink">Several earthquakes both in the U.S. and abroad </a> have been linked to the hydraulic fracturing process. One British company, <a href="http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Cuadrilla-Resources-Press-Release-02-11-11.pdf" target="_hplink">Cuadrilla Resources</a>, admitted in a report that its hydraulic fracturing process well "did trigger a number of minor seismic events."

  • PRO: Jobs

    <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/facts-on-fracking-pros-cons-of-hydraulic-fracturing-for-natural-gas-infographic.html" target="_hplink">The industry currently employs more than 1.2 million people</a> in the U.S., and the Department of Energy estimates that natural gas resources have increased nearly 65 percent due to fracking, according to a TreeHugger graphic. Additionally, <a href="http://www.bu.edu/energy/files/2011/07/Fracking-article-Sept-14-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">the gas industry accounts for about $385 billion</a> in direct economic activity in the country, a <em>Nature</em> piece reports.

  • CON: Companies Don't Have To Disclose Chemicals Used In Process

    <a href="http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/wells_hydroreg.cfm" target="_hplink">Fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005</a>, thus allowing companies to conceal the chemicals used in the process.

  • PRO: Buys Time To Develop Renewable Energy

    Former chief of staff to President Clinton and former head of the Center for American Progress <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/could-shale-gas-reignite-the-us-economy-11032011_page_2.html" target="_hplink">John Podesta says natural gas can serve</a> "as a bridge fuel to a 21st century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels."

  • CON: Requires Large Amounts Of Water

    The fracking process can require around <a href="http://www.hydraulicfracturing.com/Water-Usage/Pages/Information.aspx" target="_hplink">five million gallons</a> of water. In some cases<a href="http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/facts-on-fracking-pros-cons-of-hydraulic-fracturing-for-natural-gas-infographic.html" target="_hplink"> less than a third of that water is recovered</a>.


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  • In this file photo from Oct. 14, 2011, a drilling rig is seen in Springville, Pa. State regulators blamed faulty gas wells drilled for leaking methane into the groundwater in nearby Dimock, Pa. It was the first serious case of methane migration said to be related to the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale gas field drilling boom. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, FILE)

  • British police secure the area where demonstrators erected a mock fracking rig with a banner reading 'No fracking in the UK' in a protest against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 1, 2012. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS

  • SPRINGVILLE, PA - JANUARY 18: A truck with the natural gas industry, one of thousands that pass through the area daily, drives through the countryside to a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: Protestors stage a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • People demonstrate on August 3, 2013 in La Petite Brosse, near Jouarre, outside Paris, to protest against an exploratory oil shale drilling, considering that it opens the door to the exploration of shale gas in the Parisian Basin. Banner reads 'Stop gas and oil shale'. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU

  • In this Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Steve Lipsky demonstrates how his well water ignites when he puts a flame to the flowing well spigot outside his family's home in rural Parker County near Weatherford, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had evidence a gas company's drilling operation contaminated Lipsky's drinking water with explosive methane, and possibly cancer-causing chemicals, but withdrew its enforcement action, leaving the family with no useable water supply, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The EPA's decision to roll back its initial claim that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations had contaminated the water is the latest case in which the federal agency initially linked drilling to water contamination and then softened its position, drawing criticism from Republicans and industry officials who insisted they proved the agency was inefficient and too quick to draw conclusions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

  • In this file photo of Jan. 17, 2013, Yoko Ono, left, and her son Sean Lennon visit a fracking site in Franklin Forks, Pa., during a bus tour of natural-gas drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Ono and Lennon have formed a group called “Artists Against Fracking,” which has become the main celebrity driven anti-fracking organization. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker checks a dipstick to check water levels and temperatures in a series of tanks at a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas drilling site outside Rifle, Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker switches well heads during a short pause in the water pumping phase, at the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Josh Fox, director of the anti-fracking, Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” testifies during a House Committee hearing on oil drilling, "fracking" legislation at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • This is a Thursday Aug. 15, 2013 image of the Cuadrilla exploration drilling site in Balcombe, southeast England. (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller/PA)

  • A child plays near a farmers' protest in an area where oil company Chevron plans to put a drilling rig exploring for shale gas in the south-eastern Polish village of Zurawlow on June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • Protesters hold a banner during a protest outside of the Momentive resin plant, Monday, July 8, 2013, in Morganton, N.C. Dozens of environmental activists blocked a chemical plant Monday to protest against the company's sale of products used in the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Mary Elizabeth Robertson)

  • A fracking rig exploring for shale gas of oil company Chevron on June 11, 2013 in a village of Ksiezomierz in south-eastern Poland. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • People demonstrate on August 3, 2013 in La Petite Brosse, near Jouarre, outside Paris, to protest against an exploratory oil shale drilling, considering that it opens the door to the exploration of shale gas in the Parisian Basin. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU

  • Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York state attend a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on January 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch attends a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in New York State on January 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Opponents and supporters of gas-drilling, or fracking, walk into the last of four public hearings on proposed fracking regulations in upstate New York on November 30, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • General views of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers look at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • A lump of shale rock on display at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Drill heads on display at the entrance to the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • An engineer displays a lump of shale rock at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Actor/director Mark Ruffalo (C) speaks at the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

  • (L-R) Actor/director Mark Ruffalo, Denise Katzman, Wenonah Hauter, and Water Defense co-founder/campaign director Claire Sandberg attend the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)