* Moratorium would last a maximum of five years
* Government had promised a ban, citing public concerns
OTTAWA, May 15 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Quebec, citing public concerns, unveiled a bill on Wednesday to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in a region rich in shale gas deposits.
The province’s minority Parti Quebecois government needs opposition support to adopt the moratorium - which would last a maximum of five years. It would ban gas exploration and extraction in the Lowlands region of the St Lawrence River, site of the rich Utica and Lorraine shale gas formations.
The moratorium bill would add legal weight to an effective ban on using fracking technology now in force while an expert panel studies its impact on health and the environment.
“We will respect the concerns which citizens have been expressing for many years,” Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet said in a statement that urged opposition parties to support the bill.
The panel is expected to present its conclusions next year, at which point the provincial legislature will develop a legally-binding framework for energy extraction.
Quebec is among several jurisdictions that have stopped companies from using the extraction technology - which involves horizontal drilling and hydraulic rock fracturing using water, chemicals and sand - while they study the impact.
Oil and gas companies insist the practice is safe, but opponents fear it can contaminate drinking water supplies and deplete local water sources.
Companies including Talisman Energy Inc and Questerre Energy Corp have already suspended most natural gas development operations in Quebec.