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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