Quebec minister signals stricter ban on fracking

(Reuters) - Quebec’s natural resources minister has signaled that the newly elected separatist government wants to put more restrictions on developing the province’s shale gas resources, saying she does not believe hydraulic fracturing is safe.

Quebec, site of the gas-rich Utica and Lorraine shale gas formations, already had a moratorium on development using fracking technology as a panel studies the environmental impact. Recommendations were expected by 2014.

“Our position is very clear on shale gas: we want a complete moratorium, not only on extraction but also on exploration of shale gas. We haven’t changed our view,” Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet told reporters on her way into a cabinet meeting in Quebec City on Thursday.

Asked if the moratorium would be permanent, she responded: “I don’t foresee a day when there will be technology that will allow safe production (of shale gas).”

Companies including Talisman Energy Inc TLM.TO and Questerre Energy Corp QEC.TO have suspended most operations in the province while a policy on gas development is hammered out.

Quebec is among several jurisdictions that have stopped companies from using the extraction technology, involving horizontal drilling and hydraulic rock fracturing using chemicals, while they study the impacts, including effects on groundwater. Fracking is currently allowed for study purposes only.

Newly elected Premier Pauline Marois appeared to soften Ouellet’s remarks at a press conference following the cabinet meeting, however.

“She fears that there will be risks that would be hard to accept, but she of course said - and I saw her remarks - that there has to be a study of BAPE (the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment), which we will go ahead with to evaluate all the impacts - which we had committed to and which we will respect,” Marois said.

Reporting by Jeffrey Jones in Calgary, Rita Devlin Marier in Montreal and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid