Quebec is Very Strategic About Developing and Transporting Hydrocarbons
Quebec is known to be rich in hydro-electricity. At the same time, hydrocarbons have played a central role in its energy sector, notably in its transportation sector. The public debate about the role of hydrocarbons in Quebec has often been quite muted and focused on the environmental impacts of using oil and gas, coming almost entirely from outside the province. This has changed, however, with the Quebec government’s launch of its Action Plan on Hydrocarbons, announced on May 30th, 2014 by Energy Minister Arcand and Environment Minister Heurtel. Much has happened since then and much more is to come.
As a starting point, the main forms of energy consumed in Quebec, as at 2011 (the latest year for which there is data on the Quebec energy department’s website), are electricity (40%), petroleum (38%), natural gas (14%), biomass (8%) and coal (1%). Therefore, hydrocarbons represent more than half the energy consumption of Quebecers. The quality of life of Quebecers depends a lot on hydrocarbons fuelling the economy and transporting goods and people, a good reality check for anyone seeing the Province as predominantly and mostly hydro-electric, a common misperception.
It is therefore very wise for the Quebec government to invest a great deal in hydrocarbon policy – and it is investing a great deal. The Crown jewel of its efforts is a Strategic Environmental Assessment on the role of hydrocarbons in the future of Quebec’s society – no less! The scope of the SEA was provided in a July 11th, 2014 Media Release issued by Ministers Arcand and Heurtel. The SEA will take stock of current and needed knowledge on the policy aspects of developing and transporting hydrocarbons in Quebec, having regard to the environmental, social, economic and safety aspects – essentially, asking how hydrocarbons can be sustainably developed and transported. The media release was particularly explicit as to how the Quebec government is open minded about the role of hydrocarbons in Québec:
“Our Government is convinced that economic development goes hand in hand with protection of the environment. The development of our hydrocarbons, a potential source of wealth creation, would allow us to reduce our dependence on imports and could finance out transition towards other forms of energy. Let us be reminded that the main imported product in Quebec, crude oil, represents a trade deficit of more than $14 billion per year.” (free translation)
A Steering Committee, co-chaired by the two responsible Deputy Ministers, was formed on September 12th, 2014. A number of subject matter experts, many from academia, were also appointed to the Committee. At the same time, the government indicated it would carry out online consultations prior to the publication of the SEA in the late fall of 2015.
In another wise move, on October 30th, 2014, Minister Arcand commented on the filing by TransCanada PipeLines of its Energy East Project that is before the National Energy Board (NEB) by indicating that the SEA would be a key input into the position Quebec will take before the federal regulator in its public review of the project. This was a fine example of the Canadian federation working well – recognition by Quebec that the project was under federal jurisdiction but assuming fully its responsibilities as the government of a province whose people, communities, lands and economy would be directly affected by the project.
The Ontario government had made a similar move. On November 12th, 2013 it asked the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to examine and report on the proposed Energy East Pipeline from an Ontario perspective. Since then, the OEB have had several consultation meetings and reports and the consultation process is still underway. The final report, yet to be produced, will inform Ontario’s position in the NEB hearings on Energy East. Again, this shows the federation working as it is supposed to be.
Back to Quebec, it will be very interesting to see how the government will consult on the SEA and what questions it will ask Quebecers to address. Of particular interest will be the question of social acceptability of proposed energy projects. In its May 30th, 2014 release, the government indicated that proponents of exploration and development projects would have to demonstrate that they have elicited the “adherence” (adhésion) of affected communities. How such adherence is determined and measured, and who is deemed to be affected, will be crucial in the policy debates related to these questions. The SEA of the role of hydrocarbons in Quebec’s society is definitely a public policy file to monitor. It has all the right ingredients to get to good policy.