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Quebec shale-gas industry spokesman Lucien Bouchard leaves a news conference in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Quebec shale-gas industry spokesman Lucien Bouchard leaves a news conference in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Bouchard says Quebec shale-gas industry moved too fast, was 'shock' to citizens Add to ...

Lucien Bouchard says the energy industry failed to sell Quebecers on the merits of shale gas because it moved too quickly in a province with virtually no history of gas production.

The former premier, and champion of Quebec's independence movement, is now handling public relations for the province's embattled shale-gas industry.

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It faces vocal opposition in the province, even though the resource has quietly been extracted for decades in places like Alberta and British Columbia.

Mr. Bouchard also blamed the public concerns in Quebec on environmental mishaps and the lack of expertise in the province.

"We all forgot that there (is) absolutely no culture, no experience of gas and oil development in Quebec - that we were starting afresh," Mr. Bouchard, recently named chief spokesman for the province's oil and gas association, told a news conference Monday in Montreal.

"We all forgot that it was something new - it was a shock in Quebec because of that."

The provincial government halted the industry earlier this month following recommendations in an environmental-assessment report.

The province will conduct more studies on the ecological risks of the process to unlock natural gas from shale - known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Fears over hydraulic fracturing have ignited heated opposition from environmentalists and citizens living near exploratory wells.

The fracking process forces a mixture of chemicals, sand and water deep underground to release natural gas trapped in shale formations.

Opponents are concerned the method will contaminate and draw heavily on local water bodies.

Mr. Bouchard said the passionate responses at public meetings were, at times, on the verge of getting out of hand.

"We all saw what happened here, that it was close to getting out of bounds - we have to sit down, calm it down," Mr. Bouchard said of the first impression left by the industry on the Quebec public.

"It could have been done in a better way."

Quebec has banned any further use of hydraulic fracturing, except for the purposes of its study.

Bouchard's association agrees with most aspects of the environmental assessment as well as the government's decision to take up to 30 months to evaluate the risks.

Mr. Bouchard, a former federal environment minister, called on all parties to use this time to closely examine the science and the economic potential of the industry, including job creation and royalties.

Association members also plan to shine more light on an industry they say is still relatively unknown in Quebec.

"We need to educate the people of Quebec to those practices to earn their trust, so they can operate in a socially acceptable manner," said Jim Fraser, vice-president of North American shale-gas operations for Talisman Energy Inc., which has conducted drilling in Quebec.

"The people of Quebec deserve a Quebec answer."

Mr. Fraser argues there is a big difference between Quebec and gas-rich regions of Western Canada, where Talisman also has shale wells.

"It's a much more accepted industry in Western Alberta and British Columbia because it's been there for so many years," he said.

"Do people have concerns? Sure, they have the same concerns as people do in Quebec."

Vancouver environmentalist Will Koop says the shale-gas industry has moved ahead with little public opposition because drilling sites are located in remote areas, such as northeastern B.C.

Those areas are far less populated than the region around the St. Lawrence River, where farms and municipalities would co-exist side by side with much of the Quebec development.

"Because this is an isolated area (in B.C.), it's very difficult for the public to understand what's going on and to get interested in this," said Mr. Koop, co-ordinator of the B.C. Tap Water Alliance.

But this doesn't mean worries over the impacts of shale-gas wells don't exist in B.C. communities, Mr. Koop said.

"The First Nations . . . in northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta have great concerns about what these things are going to wildlife, to moose and caribou in the area," he said.

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