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A Questerre shale gas exploration well is seen near St. Edouard, Que.

Questerre Energy Corp. QEC-T has gained additional First Nations support for its push to develop what it calls a “zero-emissions” natural gas hub in Quebec, ahead of a looming ban by the province on any future oil and gas development.

The Indian Resource Council of Canada (IRC), an organization representing more than 130 First Nations that produce energy or have direct interests in the energy industry, issued a statement of support late Wednesday for the proposed project. The hub would be located near Bécancour, Que., on land the Abenaki First Nation of Wolinak considers its traditional territory.

The Abenakis last week announced a preliminary deal with Calgary-based Questerre that would give them a share of the profits from development on the land. The Abenakis would also have an opportunity to acquire a working interest in Questerre’s exploration licences and participate in future development.

“This project has the full support of the Abenakis and offers innovative solutions to reducing emissions while providing an affordable and reliable source of energy to the market,” IRC president Stephen Buffalo said. “The current proposed ban by the Government of Quebec on oil and gas development is a clear violation of Aboriginal and treaty rights and the IRC will do everything it can to support the Abenakis.”

Alberta energy junior Questerre seeks to test Quebec’s ban on oil and gas development

The move by Indigenous groups to back the proposal raises the stakes for Quebec Premier François Legault, whose government is readying new legislation that will put the hydrocarbon development ban into effect. The Premier, who faces an election in October, may be forced to consider whether boosting his environmental credibility is worth roiling First Nations as they try to raise own-source revenue for their communities.

Resource estimates suggest Quebec has enough natural gas to meet its own needs for several decades, most of it concentrated in the province’s portion of the Utica shale formation along the southern flank of the St. Lawrence River, in and around the Bécancour region. Early efforts to access the gas, using a technique that fractured the underlying rock, met with significant public opposition. The majority of the deposits remain untapped.

Questerre holds the licence rights to more than one million gross acres of farmland in the province. The company’s efforts to develop natural gas projects have been repeatedly thwarted by government moratoriums. Rather than exit the province, Questerre has continued trying to convince decision-makers that it can adopt new production methods that mesh with Quebec’s environmental goals.

Questerre is proposing a pilot project that would drill for natural gas with new underground well-stimulation techniques, powered by hydroelectricity and using biodegradable chemicals. It says this would reduce extraction-related emissions to near zero.

The company wants to build two pipelines in the Bécancour area – one to carry carbon dioxide and another to carry natural gas. It would sell the gas to local industrial clients while taking back the carbon dioxide and either recycling it or storing it to avoid releasing it into the atmosphere. It has submitted an application to government authorities to test a carbon-sequestration reservoir, which would be the first piece of the project.

The plan is little more than a “desperate strategy, a Hail Mary,” by a company whose business model is under threat, said Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, a climate policy analyst at Montreal-based environmental group Équiterre.

“Oil and gas companies are feeling the heat, and the industry is trying really hard to find loopholes to continue making money by any means,” Mr. Boisseau-Bouvier said. That includes “greenwashing their activities with false technological solutions,” such as carbon capture and storage, he said.

Geneviève Tremblay, a spokesperson for Jonatan Julien, Quebec’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, said the government welcomes any mutually beneficial agreement between a company and a First Nations community. But she said the government is holding firm on its intention to introduce new legislation that will enact a ban on oil and gas development.

Quebec imports most of its natural gas from the United States and Western Canada.

Eric Tétrault, president of l’Association de l’Énergie du Québec, a trade group whose members include natural gas developers, argued that gas extraction isn’t necessarily harmful to the environment. “Saying no to Questerre for political reasons while Quebec’s natural gas could be zero-emission, cheaper and 100-per-cent secure compared to imported gas obviously makes no sense,” he said.

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