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MCN21 discusses the future of shale gas

Quebec orders moratorium on controversial drilling technique to assess its sustainability

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Tuesday evening, Jean-Marc Pelletier, a specialist in the energy sector and co-founder of Maitre Chez Nous 21e siècle (MCN21), spoke about Quebec’s energy industryto a group of around 25 people at Concordia. The talk was hosted by Citizens in Action, a non-profit partisan group of concerned citizens dedicated to economic and social justice.

Pelletier was asked to step in for the scheduled keynote speaker, geologist and MCN21 co-founder Daniel Breton. He spoke about the growing demand for methane natural gas and its controversial extraction process, shale gas drilling. Breton was unable to attend as a result of the release earlier in the day of a Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) report on the safety and sustainability of shale gas commissioned by the province.

Public opposition against shale gas drilling prompted Quebec’s Minister of Environment, Pierre Arcand, to commission the report late last year.

Shale gas is a type of methane natural gas accessed through a procedure called fracking – fracturing shale rock with high-pressure blasts of water, sand, and chemicals. Fracking has come under heavy criticism due to potentially dangerous environmental effects associated with the process. This includes fresh-water contamination from chemicals used in the process, and leaks due to the exposure of the methane deposits themselves.

Following the release of BAPE’s report, Arcand announced Tuesday that the government will respect the report’s recommendation and introduce a two-year moratorium on all commercial shale gas drilling. Drilling that is part of the ongoing scientific evaluations of the practice will continue.

Pelletier said in his talk that the MCN21 group was “pleasantly surprised” that BAPE called for a moratorium, a move the group has lobbied for.

“The BAPE mandate was not to say whether or not to drill, but how to drill,” he said, referring to the moratorium as a way to assess the safety of shale gas drilling.

Pelletier also emphasized that the moratorium on all commercial drilling is temporary, underlining the fact that the possibility of corporate capital investment will lead to substantial industry pressure on the government to allow drilling to resume.

“Two years is two years. It’s not such a long time,” he stated.

If developed, shale gas has the potential to become a multibillion-dollar industry for Quebec.

After his talk, Pelletier opened the floor to questions and comments. Most notably, he refuted the opinion of some attendees that shale gas drilling should be permanently banned. He summarized MCN21’s core principle as one which advocates for the development of “the right fuel, in the right place, at the right time.”

Pelletier said that the group weighs environmental factors with economic and practical ones to arrive at a position. While he maintained that there are good reasons for the moratorium on drilling right now, he sees the extraction of methane gas as a longer-term inevitability, especially as market demands for fuel sources grow.

“Someday we’ll be extracting that methane. We will need to use it to heat our homes and fuel our cars. We need to know how to do it right, do it safely,” he said, emphasizing the importance of methane as a future fuel source.

Responding to a question asked by The Daily, Pelletier expanded on alternative sources for methane extraction. He presented the process of biomethanization, which is a process by which methane is produced from the decomposition of organic waste in controlled, anaerobic environments, as an alternative.

In contrast to shale gas drilling, Pelletier was optimistic that the process of biomethanization could be a solution to multiple environmental problems.

“More and more, even in Quebec, we have landfill problems. We could produce methane from organic waste, use it for energy, and the residues can be used for fertilizer,” he said, explaining how biomethanization puts organic waste to productive use.

Pointing to European successes, Pelletier stated that, “in Lille [France], 300 municipal buses run on methane produced from waste.”

He expressed the need for further development in Quebec, adding: “Biomethanization is now my passion.”