Petrolia CEO says he wants Quebec premier to clarify stance on energy drilling

MONTREAL – The president and CEO of energy company Petrolia Inc. demanded Monday that the Quebec government clarify whether it will respect contracts it signed regarding oil and gas exploration on Anticosti Island.

Alexandre Gagnon said Premier Philippe Couillard has been making statements in the media against drilling on the island but has refused to communicate with his company.

Since the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December, the Quebec government has “cut off all communication,” he said.

“Never did the government think it would be a good idea to talk to its partners to discuss its stance or to address concerns,” Gagnon told a news conference in Quebec City.

In April 2014, the previous Parti Quebecois government took a 35 per cent share in a limited partnership — one in which Petrolia has a 27 per cent stake — to drill several exploratory wells on the island, located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Days later the Liberals won a majority in a provincial election.

Couillard said Monday “it was a serious error” for the PQ to have put public funds toward the project and to sign drilling contracts.

He said the exploratory well-drilling includes fracking, a controversial practice where a mixture is pumped deep underground in order to crack rocks and release natural gas, which risks affecting the water table.

Couillard wants the water-impact studies to be released before he sits down with Petrolia (TSX VENTURE:PEA).

“The main issue is not whether we support oil and gas production because we are supporting Petrolia in other (projects),” Couillard said. “The next meeting we will have (with Petrolia) will be after we get the studies on water, which are due in a few weeks.”

Gagnon says he has applied to the government for drilling permits for the island, as the exploratory work is scheduled to begin this summer.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, said Couillard’s refusal to confirm he will respect the contracts creates uncertainty in the market, which is bad for the province’s economy.

The government needs to ensure the environment is protected but also to determine the energy potential on the island, Legault added.

“It’s about being able to respect a contract and to explore and evaluate the potential on the island before taking a decision whether or not (to go forward),” he said.