The issue recently in the press relating to the distance between oil and gas wells and water wells is about something. But we can be sure it’s not about the water.
The science on this is clear. The comprehensive studies have been done by scientists, in Quebec as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and also in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency. The findings are clear that the distances required by regulations throughout America and the rest of Canada include a safety factor. These distances are typically about 100 meters.
Let’s not forget that both former President Obama and the State of California are supporters of modern natural gas development. We can also remember that there are much more than one million wells of experience in North America. This is not theory or models. This is scientific study based on real life experience over decades.
In addition, the BAPE, more or less ignoring the studies of the SEA, recommended a 300 meter set back. Industry said that this number was not based on science or experience. It was unreasonable then and it’s unreasonable now.
Yet to please opponents the draft regulations could suggest a number even more than 300 meters. This would be more severe than the BAPE which is more severe than the science and experience. Industry has told the Government we find the BAPE recommendation unreasonable. We suggest the only thing an even greater distance proves is that it isn’t about protecting water and it’s impossible to satisfy opponents who are against development on ideological grounds.
So if it’s not about water what is it about?
Well the number of two kilometers was talked about by opponents in community meetings as a way of imposing a back door moratorium. The town of Ristigouche passed a resolution adopting that same number which had the effect of stopping a project by Gastem. In our opinion, a two kilometer limit is in effect a back door expropriation that bypasses the Expropriation Act without due process or compensation.
So it should be transparent if the scientific studies say 100 meters includes a safety factor and the risks are very low that two kilometers is about blocking the industry not protecting the water.
We share municipalities’ concerns. Even if risks are very low the municipalities nonetheless are exposed to whatever risk there is. As we have said for several years there must be adequate benefits sharing. This is a top issue for industry.
The second issue is consultation. Before the defacto moratorium industry was moving quickly. It is understandable the municipalities could worry that development could come quickly again. However, industry has learned and we have committed that we won’t seek to develop in communities where the plurality of people don’t want us, because we know success for us depends on strong local relationships.
The scientific study shows this issue is not about water, it’s about benefits and local acceptability. And of course opponents are torqueing the issue to shut down development. If only they would realize local oil and gas reduces global emissions.
In the end we should be looking to what’s good for Quebecers. Development projects that can improve our global environment while bringing substantial benefits are good for Quebec.
We invite municipalities to review the science and the studies. It will show that a two kilometer limit is just a straw man invented by opponents as a moratorium by another name. We think discussing the potential for local benefits and local acceptability is much more productive.