The high-profile energy executive charged with convincing Quebeckers to accept shale gas drilling has withdrawn from the campaign for at least two weeks.
A spokesman for the Quebec Oil and Gas Association says André Caillé is sick and his doctor has ordered him to take a break. The physician feared the 67-year-old former president of Hydro-Québec was on the verge of coming down with pneumonia, according to spokesman Stéphane Dion.
Mr. Caillé's withdrawal Monday came as Quebec's environmental review board begins public hearings on the impact of shale gas drilling.
Mr. Caillé, who was held in high esteem in Quebec for his handling of the 1998 ice storm, was heckled and jeered at three recent public meetings held to promote the gas industry, which would be the first major foray into oil and gas in the province.
The provincial government, which is anxious to proceed with drilling, has been criticized for rushing the environmental review and for leaving industry to convince Quebeckers shale gas won't destroy the environment or quality of life in the St. Lawrence Valley.
A host of municipal leaders, environmental groups and small, local campaigns have called for a moratorium on drilling until the full impact of techniques used to extract shale gas are understood.
Shale gas is reached by a relatively new process known as fracking, where rock thousands of metres below the surface is broken by a high-pressure mix of chemicals and thousands of litres of water.
Proponents of drilling say shale gas poses no more risk than any other oil and gas activity, where leaks and surface spills do occur as a result of accident or error.
Opponents point out the technique is relatively new and cite examples from Alberta, Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions where problems have occurred.