Published on: August 27, 2016 | Last Updated: August 27, 2016 7:13 AM EDT / Shaun Michaud / Montreal Gazette
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Three hundred and thirty-one towns across the province say Quebec is going too far with Bill 106, which gives companies the right to expropriate municipal land to extract oil.
The mayors of eight municipalities, mostly rural, made their case Friday in Montreal against the Petroleum Resource Act, part of Bill 106, which they say could damage their drinking water.
“When you have the Union des producteurs agricoles, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the Chambre des notaires, environmental organizations, citizen groups, and municipalities all saying no — it seems to me like the sign of a social consensus against hydrocarbon exploitation,” said sociologist Richard Langelier, a lawyer by training, whom the mayors hired as an adviser
The government’s plan with the Petroleum Resource Act is to create a framework for controlled oil and gas development, but critics contend it gives too much power to the industry.
The group of mayors, which included the mayor of Anticosti, are members of a committee that represents 331 Quebec municipalities who want the Petroleum Resource Act overhauled.
If the government were to adopt this law — “and that’s what they’re planning to do this fall” — it would remove all municipal powers, said François Boulay, mayor of Ristigouche Sud-Est near Baie des Chaleurs in the Gaspé. “Any new company that comes into the territory has carte blanche to proceed as they wish,” Boulay said.
According to the mayors, between 2010 and 2012, several towns in the St. Lawrence Valley adopted a bylaw stipulating that their drinking water sources had to be a minimum of two kilometres away from natural gas and oil facilities. If passed, Bill 106 would reduce that distance to 500 metres from the well head and 400 metres from the underground water source, they said.
“We’ve been trying to convince other municipalities and a fair number of them have joined the municipalities who’ve adopted a resolution asking the Environment Minister to allow us to increase the distances under our water protection bylaw,” said Boulay.
Véronique Normandin, press attaché for Energy Minister Pierre Arcand, said in an email that the minister was “open to making improvements on Bill 106” concerning drinking water. Normandin added that the bill is environmentally friendly.
“(It) is innovative in the sense that it expects companies will own higher liability insurance. It’s a new condition that aims exactly to guarantee the security of goods, people and the environment,” she said.
The mayors argue that the bill would strip them of their control over their towns’ futures. Article 55 grants the right to natural resource companies to expropriate landowners for industrial development without having to consult the municipality.
“They’re only informed 30 days before a natural gas or oil company is accessing the territory,” Langelier said.
Normandin countered that “expropriation would only be used as a last recourse and would be done according to prevailing Quebec rules.”
She added that expropriation was allowed only at the exploitation phase, not the exploration phase, and only if a landowner and a company were unable to strike a deal.
“The Minister repeated it several times, expropriation can only take place if public interest justifies it and a judge would rule on the matter,” she said.
The mayors are expected to meet again at a general assembly of the Fédération Québécoise des municipalités on Oct.1. to share their concerns with other mayors across the province.