A small town in Quebec’s Gaspe region has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money to defend itself against a lawsuit from a gas exploration company.
The town of Ristigouche-Sud-Est, population 168, is facing a lawsuit from Gastem. It's seeking $1.5 million in damages over a town bylaw, passed last year, that prohibits drilling near the town’s water sources.
The damages sought amount to five-and-a-half times the town’s $275,000 annual budget, reports Le Soleil.
According to le Journal de Quebec, the town’s bylaw prohibits the introduction of any substance into the ground that could harm the quality of drinking water within two kilometres of any drinking water sources used by 20 or more people.
Gastem says it has provincial permits for its exploration in the area. The company’s president says the town’s bylaw was passed without consulting the company.
Ristigouche Mayor Francois Boulay says the province has essentially abandoned the town in its fight with the Montreal-based gas exploration company.
He told Le Soleil he appealed to the province’s municipal affairs ministry, but was told the province couldn’t interfere in a case before the courts.
"You can't be intimidated by companies who want to put their interests above the duty of elected officials and the citizens' right to protect their drinking water," Boulay said, as quoted at Le Soleil.
Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau said in a statement this week it would not be “appropriate” for the province to intervene.
The province itself adopted new regulations earlier this month that prohibit drilling within 500 metres of drinking water sources.
“If ‘the environment ministry’s] rule from last week was in place at the time the gas company arrived [in Ristigouche], we would not be in the situation we are in today,” Boulay said, as quoted at CBC.
Gastem said Quebec’s new rules have no impact on its lawsuit against Ristigouche.
Though the company no longer plans to drill in the area and even sold its drilling rights to another company, Petrolia, it’s pursuing the lawsuit because it spent money “in good faith” on the belief it could drill in the area, Le Soleil reports.