The battle over a commercially promising oil deposit on Quebec's Gaspé peninsula is entering a new phase with the unveiling of an independent study indicating a low risk of drinking-water contamination.
Junior exploration company Petrolia Oil & Gas Ltd. says the results of the study should help allay the fears of residents in the town of Gaspé, but the municipality's mayor says there should be no resumption of drilling in the area until the province's recently elected Liberal government follows through on its promised environmental review of oil and gas activity in Quebec.
The set-to over the quality of drinking water in the region underlines the continued confusion and lack of direction over the province's nascent oil-and-gas industry, with shale-gas exploration and development under a quasi-moratorium and the new Liberal government in the early stages of a putting together a "comprehensive and integrated" approach to the issues.
Quebec City-based Petrolia said on Monday the hydrogeological study's results indicate that the company's activities at the Haldimand sector near Gaspé "have had no impact on the quality of water samples in the area, and confirmed that the risk of drinking water contamination is low and can be mitigated by the use of standard measures."
The study also shows that the proposed drilling of the Haldimand 4 well "already meets the requirements set out in the draft regulation respecting water usage and protection " by the environment ministry, Petrolia said.
The study was conducted by the Institut national de la recherché scientifique – Centre Eau Terre Environnement (INRS-ETE).
Petrolia says an outside firm's assessment has estimated the amount of potentially recoverable oil at 7.7 million barrels, a project that could represent $800-million in revenues, good high-paying jobs in the economically depressed region and nearly $200-million in royalties for the Quebec government.
Gaspé Mayor Daniel Côté said the municipality needs more time to fully analyze the highly technical study but reiterated his call on the government to enact legislation for the protection of drinking water. He also said there should be no resumption of exploration until the environmental component of full oil-and-gas strategic review is in place.
"This study [by INRS]was carried out on the Haldimand 4 site only after pressure from the municipality, which deplored the lack of a framework and information on this exploratory work in an inhabited territory," Mr. Côté said in a news release.
The town is appealing a Superior Court of Quebec decision in February that struck down a bylaw banning oil drilling too close to the water supply.
The ruling said Gaspé improperly ventured onto provincial jurisdictional ground in Dec. 2012 by adopting the bylaw.