The case of the missing social license (part one)

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Questerre used to have a social license for exploring hydrocarbons in Quebec.  Our predecessor company used the license starting in 1989 with our first exploration well and we’ve since drilled over a dozen.  We finally made a significant discovery of natural gas in 2008 only to lose our social license somewhere shortly afterwards.  We’ve been looking for it for a few years now and we are wondering if you can help us find it.

In more than thirty modern exploration wells since 1989, there was no significant environmental or safety problem.   One could easily understand misplacing one’s social license in the middle of an environmental disaster.  That’s not how we lost ours.

In 2011 the Government decided to carry out a comprehensive strategic environmental review to search for the missing social license.  134 independent studies done in Quebec by Quebecers found no evidence of an environmental problem that couldn’t be mitigated with good management.   But one of those studies very helpfully ‘discovered’ we didn’t have a social license but it didn’t disclose why nor where it was lost.

In 2011 after a widely publicized availability cascade of misinformation created fears in the public of water contamination, support for local hydrocarbon development dropped dramatically.  The mockumentary Gasland with its infamous taps on fire was the touchstone for public fears.  In America with over a million wells successfully completed, this film has been widely recognized as a hoax.  It helped that the film producer Josh Fox admitted on camera he knew people had been lighting their taps on fire since at least 1936. It’s interesting at the BAPE hearings in Quebec we learned that over 90% of water wells in Quebec contain methane naturally and that farmers testified they also could light their water taps on fire in years gone by.  It turns out methane is called natural gas because it’s natural.


Most people in Quebec seem to have realized the Gasland scenes of taps bursting into flames were duplicitous. Popular support for local natural gas development according to a June 2018 IPSOS poll and a December 2018 Leger poll show Quebecers once again overwhelmingly prefer the idea of local hydrocarbon development to imports.  Nonetheless, I still hear people in Quebec mentioning how they saw a tap on fire in a film and so it may be that Josh Fox has our social license.  If you see him with it, please let me know.


There are environmental groups primarily based in Montreal who are against any hydrocarbon development of any sort.  They are committed to 100% transition off fossil fuels by 2050. Their logic is “we shouldn’t approve new projects today (even if they will reduce emissions) because it will make it more difficult to achieve their goal of complete transition by 2050.

My opinion is their cure is worse than the disease.  Our project will reduce global emissions by 1.5 megatonnes per year.  Blocking our project will increase emissions by over 30 megatonnes between now and 2050 in the hope there will be a greater saving in 2050 and beyond.  I mention that fertilizer, methanol, liquid natural gas, and other products we likely will still need in 2050 are made from natural gas only to emphasize the likely foolishness of refusing emissions reductions today. Nonetheless, I do understand the logic of the leave it all in the ground movement and so if you happen to see any environmentalists using our social license to get into a protest concert please call.


A project that grows the economy, adds jobs, reduces the wealth gap, increases government revenues, plus actually reduces emissions, and has no significant unmanageable environmental or health impacts seems pretty positive.  Add in our vision for zero emissions, zero potable water, and zero toxic fluids below ground and perhaps you can see us misplacing our social license somewhere is vexing and not great for a lot of people.


We hope you will read part two of the case of the missing social license and give us some ideas on how to solve it.