News  Quebec to extract shale gas

Energy-intensive process may produce greenhouse gases and pollution

Assocation québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) has called for the implementation of new and comprehensive legislation to regulate a new speculation of a shale gas formation in the Saint Lawrence Valley in Quebec.

Natural gas produced from shale, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, is known for the difficulty of its extraction. However, recent technological breakthroughs, including innovations in drilling and sediment fracture, and the energy potential of shale gas increased interest in production during 2008.

Though the Quebec government recently issued prospection permits to companies such as Questerre and Talisman Energy, the permits for prospection and extraction of this gas are not regulated by the Règlement sur l’évaluation et l’examen des impacts sur l’environnement. AQLPA president André Bélisle feared this may fail to protect the water supply of smaller municipalities and agricultural enterprises.

The prospected area in the Saint Lawrence Valley is highly populated, yet as Bélisle pointed out, “there is no law restricting extraction sites,” and the situation could come into conflict with individual property rights.

Bélisle explained that the geological formations of shale can extend to a width of a few kilometres, and that shale is generally fractured with recourse to dynamite or by vapour pressure to release the gas. The undertaking consumes a lot of energy, and pollutes the water used for extraction. In the U.S., extraction also includes the injection of chemical solvents into the ground, which risks contaminating both groundwater and the soil.

“It is important to understand that we have not been given a characterization report. We do not know the conditions of extraction in Quebec, though we know those of New York. Everything hinges on ground formation and gas composition itself,” Bélisle said, explaining that it is still uncertain how intensive the extraction process will be in the Saint Lawrence Valley.

AQLPA is also concerned with methane emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and hydrogen sulphur, a toxic gas considered potentially fatal to both humans and animals.

However, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Coordinator of Gas and Gasoline Exploration Activities Jean Yves Laliberté denied that there are any traces of hydrogen sulphur in the Saint Lawrence formation.

“This [shale gas] is the same gas as those contained in other sources of natural gas. In the Saint Lawrence Valley, the gas is very pure. It can almost be used without treatment. And the more we aim to substitute energy sources such as coal or gasoline, the more we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Laliberté said.

He also noted that the implementation of a new hydrocarbon law was announced last March by Claude Béchard, the former Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife. Mining extraction regulations will have to follow.

With Quebec’s surplus production of hydroelectric energy, Bélisle was still concerned the extraction of shale might not be necessary for the province.

“We need to be able to justify the need for this exploitation,” Bélisle said. “Quebec’s interests in this endeavour are few – these are corporative interests. “
Laliberté, though, disagreed. In spite of its surplus, Quebec imports up to 200-billion cubic feet of natural gas from western Canada.

“Putting to use a local resource will be beneficial to us,” Laliberté said.