Quebecers get a taste of the oil patch during Alberta tour
But the industry has a long road ahead of it to gain a social licence to operate
Was it a dog and pony show? Probably. Could it still help gain acceptance for oil and gas activity in Quebec? Probably not.
It’s hard not to be cynical about the press conference that was held in Calgary Wednesday afternoon, where representatives from the Petroleum Services Association of Canada and the Oil and Gas Services Association of Quebec met with the media to talk about a three-day tour where a group of residents from the rural Quebec Lowlands region got a crash course on how the industry works in Alberta.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Quebec government kiboshed development of its promising Utica shale play in 2011 pending an environmental assessment of hydraulic fracturing.
The controversial extraction method, where sand, water and chemicals are blasted at high pressure into tight rock to crack it open and allow oil and gas to flow to the surface, has quickly become a curse word among environmentalists and the general public.
And it’s been no different in Quebec where the practice sparked a public backlash there over concerns that fracking could contaminate water supplies and cause other environmental damage.
It wasn’t a surprising outcome, as Quebecers have no history of oil and gas development in the province and everything they knew about the industry and fracking they probably learned from Gasland promos. Yet, the backlash caught the industry off guard.
One way to tackle the problem, the industry says, is to educate Quebecers on how the oil and gas industry really works.
So now we have this tour, which saw 12 Quebec residents, some of them farmers, visiting drill sites in the Calgary and Grande Prairie area and talking to Alberta landowners about how the industry operates.
“It’s hard,” says Mario Levesque, president of the Oil and Gas Services Association of Quebec. “We don’t have any experience in oil and gas. We did this to get farmers meeting farmers and to get that information. I thought the tour was very productive. The dialogue is open.”
However, opponents to fracking might see it differently. They will see a tour that was subsidized by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Questerre Energy Corp., which until the fracking moratorium occurred in Quebec, was one of the most active explorers in the province.
Would the attendees be less likely to criticize the industry when they’ve had a trip to Alberta partly paid by industry? And because the industry organized the trip and it’s obviously going to do its best to present a sunny view of fracking, did the Quebec visitors really see the good, the bad and the ugly of the business of extracting oil and gas?
It’s going to take much more than bringing a few Quebec residents to Alberta to gawk at some well sites to get people in la belle province comfortable with the oil and gas industry.
Distaste for the sector runs deep there. In May, Alberta Oil published the results of a national survey on energy issues and those results showed Quebecers view fracking (and just about everything else the sector does) negatively compared to the rest of the country.
So much more work needs to be done by the industry before it can expect to frack and poke holes in the ground to its heart content in Quebec.
This tour was an interesting first step in the journey towards respectability. But many more steps lie ahead. Is the industry up for it?