Skip to main content

Quebec is the second-largest market in Canada for refined petroleum products, after Ontario. But as far as corporate appellation goes, oil has run its course in the French-speaking province.

Which is why the Quebec Oil and Gas Association, the trade lobby promoting the sector, is changing its name to Quebec Energy Corporation (Association de l’Énergie du Québec) as it tries to reboot after failing to establish a provincial hydrocarbon industry over the past decade.

The rebranding will be announced next week, during the group’s annual conference, and reflects a new industry strategy to reposition itself as more responsive to environmental and other concerns, president Michael Binnion said via e-mail. Oil and gas players have developed new clean technology and have launched projects that will start to compete with solar and wind, the group said.

“We think 2019 is the year of a new beginning,” the association said in a message posted to its website. “Industry has learned it needs a new approach that balances people, planet and profits.”

Quebec accounts for a fifth of Canada’s demand for products such as gasoline. But oil and gas exploration and development have proven exceedingly difficult in the province amid an intense debate over its energy future.

Quebec’s unpredictable regulatory system has made it tough to raise money, with investors raising doubts about the ability of projects to reach commercialization, industry executives have said. The uncertainty has, in turn, led to consolidation. Quebec oil and gas junior Pétrolia Inc. became Pieridae Energy Ltd. in 2017 in a reverse takeover after its bet to develop oil and gas on Quebec’s Anticosti Island was thwarted by the province. Junex, another junior, merged with Calgary’s Cuda Energy Inc. to bolster its finances and lower its exposure to Quebec.

After widespread consultations, Quebec introduced a new law last year allowing for restricted hydrocarbon development. But two months before it was voted out of office last October, the Liberal government took the industry by surprise by also enacting regulations that banned hydraulic fracturing in the St. Lawrence River Valley.

Now, companies and environmentalists alike are testing the extent to which Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government is open to new investment tied to fossil fuels.

Calgary-based Questerre Energy Corp., an oil and gas developer led by Mr. Binnion, is seeking a court injunction to invalidate the fracking ban, calling it a “disguised appropriation” of companies with exploration permits. Questerre has also submitted a request to Quebec to consider a research project to produce natural gas and other forms of energy with near-zero emissions, no use of toxic fluids below ground and no use of drinking water.

For their part, many environmentalists and ordinary citizens are pushing to convince the government that society needs to move past fossil fuels. Recent climate marches have drawn thousands of people to the streets of Montreal, and more than 275,000 Quebeckers, including billionaire entertainment mogul Guy Laliberté, have signed a pact pledging to reduce their own environmental footprints.

“If we go ahead with fossil fuel extraction in Quebec, we’re basically building new infrastructure dependent on fossil fuels,” said Hugo Tremblay, a law professor and board member for the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. “That’s the exact opposite of what scientists are telling us we should do in order to meet our emission reduction targets.”

The Premier campaigned on a pledge to favour “responsible development” of Quebec’s natural resources. But he has sent mixed messages since, notably by saying the government is not open to shale-gas projects. As for the idea of pipelines running through the province, the government has expressed support for GNL Quebec’s $7-billion project to export natural gas from Western Canada, but it says there is no public appetite for a new pipeline carrying western oil.

Quebec’s marketable natural gas has been assessed by the Geological Survey of Canada at seven trillion cubic feet, much of it lodged in shale along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, in the Utica shale formation.

Quebec has oil, too, although in much smaller quantities. Cuda’s Galt play near the town of Gaspé, a conventional light oil deposit, has received government financial backing in the past.