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How gassy


 

So: Lucien Bouchard, slight refrain. A long time ago he was Canada’s ambassador to France, then Mulroney’s Environment Minister, then founder of the Bloc Québécois, then near-champion of the 1995 referendum, then péquiste premier, then a lucide and a practicing lawyer and labour negotiator, then… well, you get the idea. Now he’s a salesman charged with getting gas out of rocks. Someone should buy him a cape.

As most of you may know, Quebec is all of a sudden the Saudi Arabia of shale gas. An exaggeration, yes, but apparently we have oodles of the stuff trapped between layers of pesky rock. Trying to sell Quebecers on the idea of tapping the stuff has been, well, an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. The industry association head, former Hydro-Québec President André Caillé, failed to sell the idea of shale gas, and was raked over the coals at several shouty environmental impact meetings throughout the province (for good reason, but more on this in a sec.) The sales job was further pooched by the Charest Liberals, as several advisors and colleagues of the Preem debunked for the oil-and-gas industry just as it looked as though they would be a go. Charest and Natural Resource Minister Nathalie Normandeau swore up and down that a moratorium wasn’t in the cards—only to be Shanghaied by the government’s own Sustainable Development Minister Pierre Arcand last week, who said the shale gas industry “had lost control”, and suggested a moratorium might be necessary. In short, the usual muddy, flip-flop Gong Show.

But… wow. I haven’t a clue if Charest had a hand in appointing Bouchard to this position—certainly, Caillé did—but it is a brilliant move. First, it stunts any argument from the PQ, who are now in the odd position of being against their own former leader (and one-time secular saint) if they continue to bash the industry. Second, as La Presse’s Charles Côté points out today, Bouchard has a history of getting big, (possibly) environmentally dodgy projects built. Côté mentions the massive Hydro-Québec line built following the ice storm in 1998, to which I would humbly add the Trans Québec & Maritimes Pipeline, built around the same time. Bouchard sold both projects as necessary redundancies to maintain the integrity of Quebec’s power network; both are fairly handy in delivering energy to the U.S. Coincidence, I’m sure.

This shale gas business is ripe for a pinch of Bouchard’s rollicking nationalism of the type we saw in the lead-up to the referendum in 1995. Currently, all of Quebec’s natural gas comes from outside its border. Most of it, horror of horrors, is from Alberta. If there’s an untapped ‘Maître Chez Nous’ industry in Quebec, it’s the one under our very feet.

But here’s the trouble: no one—not Charest, not Normandeau, not Caillé, not staunch pro-shale ADQ leader Gerard Deltell—has offered up any sort of explanation how the shale gas industry will exploit the resource without, you know, causing people’s water to catch on fire—except to say that the resource will be exploited “differently” than in the States. I watched Gasland last week (brilliant, infuriating, heartbreaking) and was shocked that Quebec’s shale gas interests haven’t come close to addressing the main point of the movie—that it is difficult to inject a bunch of caustic, nasty proprietary chemicals into the ground without severe effects on the people who live above it.

I wonder if maybe it’ll be the first thing Bouchard does—or at least tries to.


 
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How gassy

  1. Gasland is great.

    There aren't many better examples of someone who's being let down by both government and industry than a group of citizens who can light their tap water on fire but still have people tell them nothing's wrong.

  2. Gasland is great.

    There aren't many better examples of someone who's being let down by both government and industry than a group of citizens who can light their tap water on fire but still have people tell them nothing's wrong.

    • haven't seen it, but good grief! "That it is difficult to inject a bunch of caustic, nasty proprietary chemicals into the ground without severe effects on the people who live above it" should be a general principle where the burden of proof isn't on those "people who live above"

    • Really? You guys are freaked out and impressed by the old "I can light my water on fire" thing? It's pretty familiar if you actually live in "a gasland". I see the director of the movie admits that the methane doesn't affect the quality or the safety of the water, but he apparently proposes that it could explode or fatally poison the occupants of a home. Which would certainly be a cause for concern if it had ever actually happened…

      • If the gift of flammable water is bestowed on a resident only *after* shale gas operations begin in the area, there is a problem. If the resident must use water from cisterns installed by the gas companies after a lifetime of using their own well water, there is a problem. If a resident suddenly has oodles of methane in their drinking water where none was before the shale gas operations, there is a problem.

        • Even in the absence of any good evidence for harm? Well, that's settled then.

          • Eh? Having to truck your water in all of a sudden because the stuff you used to drink now catches on fire? Sign me up!

          • I'd buy the whole "don't worry, your flammable drinking water is totally safe" argument if the oil and gas companies weren't buying water purification systems, and/or paying for so many people to truck in potable water for their farms and ranches.

            As for the "no one's house has exploded yet" argument, I can't believe you're serious. If someone's house DOES explode, is it a problem then?

          • Yes. It is a problem "then" in some hypothetical nightmare future where gas drilling turns the world into a reeking thirsty wasteland of spontaneously exploding farmhouses. (You can't believe I'M serious?)

      • Somebody will do something AFTER somebody's house explodes or someone is fatally poisoned though, right?

  3. If Quebec finds a way of getting the gas out safely, and realizing a lot of $$$….

    You’ll be amazed at how quickly they forget about the nonsense that was Kyoto…

  4. If Quebec finds a way of getting the gas out safely, and realizing a lot of $$$….

    You’ll be amazed at how quickly they forget about the nonsense that was Kyoto…

    • The greatest thing for the Alberta Oil Sands would be for Quebec to find some oil and gas of their own. All the opposition from the Quebec government would just disappear. Especially since this is a province that still mines Asbestos.

      • That notorious greenhouse gas, asbestos?

  5. Condolences to M. Bouchard and family on the passing of his former wife, Audrey Best.

    Not the most auspicious timing for a mildly snarky blog post.

  6. Condolences to M. Bouchard and family on the passing of his former wife, Audrey Best.

    Not the most auspicious timing for a mildly snarky blog post.

    • Oh, so just because his wife died he should be allowed to exploit and possibly make all kinds of people sick?

  7. haven't seen it, but good grief! "That it is difficult to inject a bunch of caustic, nasty proprietary chemicals into the ground without severe effects on the people who live above it" should be a general principle where the burden of proof isn't on those "people who live above"

  8. The greatest thing for the Alberta Oil Sands would be for Quebec to find some oil and gas of their own. All the opposition from the Quebec government would just disappear. Especially since this is a province that still mines Asbestos.

  9. That notorious greenhouse gas, asbestos?

  10. Quebecers are right to recoil in caution at the consequences of bubbling the gas out of the rocks.

    But the rest of Canada would also be right to cast a weary eye at Quebecers' unwillingness to embark on any attempt to better their economic lot, while their province keeps cashing the equalization cheques.

    Let's hope safe ways exist (or get developed) to get our hands on this resource. The worldwide reserves of this (relatively) clean energy source will skyrocket.

  11. Quebecers are right to recoil in caution at the consequences of bubbling the gas out of the rocks.

    But the rest of Canada would also be right to cast a weary eye at Quebecers' unwillingness to embark on any attempt to better their economic lot, while their province keeps cashing the equalization cheques.

    Let's hope safe ways exist (or get developed) to get our hands on this resource. The worldwide reserves of this (relatively) clean energy source will skyrocket.

    • "But the rest of Canada would also be right to cast a weary eye at Quebecers' unwillingness to embark on any attempt to better their economic lot, while their province keeps cashing the equalization cheques. "

      Do you make your economic lot better if you allow something that will make you sick i.e. lose work and spend more time in the hospital? Beside the people who are protesting are probably not going to see much of the riches that this shale gas may or may not bring. Just saying

      • Maybe you missed my first sentence. I hid it right at the top of my comment.

  12. "But the rest of Canada would also be right to cast a weary eye at Quebecers' unwillingness to embark on any attempt to better their economic lot, while their province keeps cashing the equalization cheques. "

    Do you make your economic lot better if you allow something that will make you sick i.e. lose work and spend more time in the hospital? Beside the people who are protesting are probably not going to see much of the riches that this shale gas may or may not bring. Just saying

  13. Maybe you missed my first sentence. I hid it right at the top of my comment.

  14. Really? You guys are freaked out and impressed by the old "I can light my water on fire" thing? It's pretty familiar if you actually live in "a gasland". I see the director of the movie admits that the methane doesn't affect the quality or the safety of the water, but he apparently proposes that it could explode or fatally poison the occupants of a home. Which would certainly be a cause for concern if it had ever actually happened…

  15. If the gift of flammable water is bestowed on a resident only *after* shale gas operations begin in the area, there is a problem. If the resident must use water from cisterns installed by the gas companies after a lifetime of using their own well water, there is a problem. If a resident suddenly has oodles of methane in their drinking water where none was before the shale gas operations, there is a problem.

  16. Even in the absence of any good evidence for harm? Well, that's settled then.

  17. Eh? Having to truck your water in all of a sudden because the stuff you used to drink now catches on fire? Sign me up!

  18. Natural gas seeps are normal above shale deposits. It's not some sinister corporate thing. It's simple geology. The guy in the Youtube video should do what farmers do around Leamington, Ontario: drive a pipe into the ground and heat his house with it.

  19. Natural gas seeps are normal above shale deposits. It's not some sinister corporate thing. It's simple geology. The guy in the Youtube video should do what farmers do around Leamington, Ontario: drive a pipe into the ground and heat his house with it.

  20. I'm gobsmacked that Patriquin can write something so ill-informed. I would request that Macleans update this post and apologize until basic research has been performed. "Noone has explained" anything is a patent untruth that reflects a complete ignorance of the content of the recent BAPE public hearings that were rather well publicized and certainly in the public eye.

    Please go to the BAPE website and read the materials provided by MDDEP, MRNF, APGQ and the Geological Survey of Canada to understand why fracture propagation in the Utica shale, and the depth of the Utica shale relative to fresh-water acquifers, makes groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing the Utica highly unlikely.

    And even if you disagree with the government/industry position and prefer that of, say, équiterre, the fact remains that there is abundant information on the public record dealing with the issue you say "no one…has offered up any sort of explanation" for. Bull. Please do some reading and fix this post.

  21. You misread the post. There may very well be plenty of evidence supporting the relative safety of shale fracturing. If that evidence exists, and I don't doubt you when you say as much, it needs to be packaged and sold to the public at large. This is exactly what Bouchard did in the case of the Hydro lines and the natural gas pipeline—he sold them to a (very) wary public. "Go read a website" is not a PR strategy, and I think Bouchard is keenly aware of as much. The Charest government did not assuage public concerns, leading the public at large (if the half-dozen polls are any indication) that the process is unsafe. Ditto Caillé: he arguably made the situation worse for himself and the association he leads.

  22. You misread the post. There may very well be plenty of evidence supporting the relative safety of shale fracturing. If that evidence exists, and I don't doubt you when you say as much, it needs to be packaged and sold to the public at large. This is exactly what Bouchard did in the case of the Hydro lines and the natural gas pipeline—he sold them to a (very) wary public. "Go read a website" is not a PR strategy, and I think Bouchard is keenly aware of as much. The Charest government did not assuage public concerns, leading the public at large (if the half-dozen polls are any indication) that the process is unsafe. Ditto Caillé: he arguably made the situation worse for himself and the association he leads.

    • The BAPE process consisted of days of public hearings over the course of two months in multiple locations with ample participation by both the public as well as government and industry. That's not "go read a website."

  23. Aren't there already a gazillion private mining companies in Quebec? If this is such a money-maker, why are they sitting on their hands? Probably because it's likely a boondoggle. But hey, what do I know, all-knowing politicians always know best, don't they?

  24. Aren't there already a gazillion private mining companies in Quebec? If this is such a money-maker, why are they sitting on their hands? Probably because it's likely a boondoggle. But hey, what do I know, all-knowing politicians always know best, don't they?

    • I have a bit of a guess as to why they might be sitting on their hands: it's actually a VERY risky investment. Suppose you find out that these zillions of cubic metres of natural gas ARE accessible enough, to justify going and getting them out of the ground to sell at today's prices. Poof! Zillions more cubic metres are now accessible! Up goes supply by a whole lot. If demand does not similarly rise (we all convert our ICE cars to methane from gasoline, everyone converts from electric and oil to gas to heat the house, and we all add a gas pipe out to the deck to fire up the BBQ, and the hydro companies build more gas-powered electric generating stations), then — Poof! Down goes price. Which makes accessing these reserves no longer economical.

      Add to that the current political climate around the environmental concerns (the true risks may lie somewhere between Martin-LKO and Colby above), and I would be hesitating if I were the company seeking to dig for it.

      • If it's such a risky investment, how on earth could we expect a bunch of politicians to pull it off? That's exactly the worst thing for government to be doing, playing poker with peoples' taxes and losing their shirts.

  25. The BAPE process consisted of days of public hearings over the course of two months in multiple locations with ample participation by both the public as well as government and industry. That's not "go read a website."

  26. Somebody will do something AFTER somebody's house explodes or someone is fatally poisoned though, right?

  27. I'd buy the whole "don't worry, your flammable drinking water is totally safe" argument if the oil and gas companies weren't buying water purification systems, and/or paying for so many people to truck in potable water for their farms and ranches.

    As for the "no one's house has exploded yet" argument, I can't believe you're serious. If someone's house DOES explode, is it a problem then?

  28. Yes. It is a problem "then" in some hypothetical nightmare future where gas drilling turns the world into a reeking thirsty wasteland of spontaneously exploding farmhouses. (You can't believe I'M serious?)

  29. I have a bit of a guess as to why they might be sitting on their hands: it's actually a VERY risky investment. Suppose you find out that these zillions of cubic metres of natural gas ARE accessible enough, to justify going and getting them out of the ground to sell at today's prices. Poof! Zillions more cubic metres are now accessible! Up goes supply by a whole lot. If demand does not similarly rise (we all convert our ICE cars to methane from gasoline, everyone converts from electric and oil to gas to heat the house, and we all add a gas pipe out to the deck to fire up the BBQ, and the hydro companies build more gas-powered electric generating stations), then — Poof! Down goes price. Which makes accessing these reserves no longer economical.

    Add to that the current political climate around the environmental concerns (the true risks may lie somewhere between Martin-LKO and Colby above), and I would be hesitating if I were the company seeking to dig for it.

  30. If it's such a risky investment, how on earth could we expect a bunch of politicians to pull it off? That's exactly the worst thing for government to be doing, playing poker with peoples' taxes and losing their shirts.

  31. Oh, so just because his wife died he should be allowed to exploit and possibly make all kinds of people sick?

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