Monday, 4 July 2011

Quebec citizens' movement against shale gas

Marchers from all across Quebec arrive in Montreal, 18 June: (c) Greenpeace
For two months, protesters marched from Rimouski to Montreal, through 33 municipalities threatened by shale gas drilling. (See these videos of the start and finish of the 500-mile march). They call for a 20 year Moratoire d'une génération on shale and oil exploration, and on nuclear power. Provincial government officials have tried to duck the issue, with self-contradictory claims that “experimental” drilling can continue, that no drilling will be done while the “expert review” proceeds (excluding environmental and citizen groups), and that the BAPE review is as effective as a moratorium.

A former premier, Lucien Bouchard, now spokesman for the gas lobby, threatens lawsuits and “loss of confidence” by international investors. He is only one of a number of insiders, PQ as well as Liberal, who have taken the revolving door out of government into lucrative positions in the industry. Quebec's Liberal Environment Minister accuses the rapidly growing citizen movement of spreading “falsehoods” (citation in English, en français). But a similar protest movement is mushrooming in France. According to Cornell University's Robert Howarth and Canadian geologist David Hughes of PCI, shale gas -- far from its ballyhoo of “clean” energy -- over its lifecycle is dirtier than coal.

The spin battle pits speculators against citizens. To soothe the market, gas company CEO Michael Binnion avers Quebec's environmental assessment is “more a political and education exercise to ease Quebec into shale gas acceptance than a scientific inquiry.” Exactly what protesters fear. A "shocked" Premier Charest says Binnion's statement has dropped “a match in the powderkeg" of la belle province.
In New York state, the draft of a similar 900-page environmental impact study has just been just released. The industry claims it shows fracking is “safe”. According to the Republican-appointed commissioner, it must be separated 4000 feet from city water supply areas and major aquifers. But environmentalists remain unconvinced. New York's moratorium and review process will drag on into 2012.
Citizen fears of contamination and coverups have not been eased by a July 1 fire in Blackfalds AB, where fireballs and explosions occurred in barrels of “drilling mud” from oil and gas companies  (videos). That's some strange kind of mud! A pillar of black smoke could be seen 20 miles away. Vacuum trucks are sucking up the polluted water. Officials refuse to reveal the chemicals involved. 

An official Quebec report Dec 2010 found over half of the"fracks" studied are leaking methane --  a greenhouse gas 72 times worse than CO2. Since then, Ministers offer nothing but delays and spin. Le Devoir Jul 20 says the government fears to crack down, lest it find itself, instead of the companies, responsible for a costly and perhaps impossible tech fix.

No comments: