The provincial government is officially on board with Anticosti joining UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Although this would permanently ban oil exploitation on the Island, Petrolia’s oil exploration contract still stands, says Quebec.

The minister of Energy and Natural Resources Pierre Arcand announced that Quebec is endorsing Anticosti’s and Saguenay Fjord’s bids for the World Heritage list in a press briefing on Wednesday. As the government is well aware, oil exploitation is forbidden on UNESCO-protected sites, which has a particular significance for Anticosti, where Petrolia is in the early phase of a colossal project. “There won’t be any petroleum on Anticosti if they get the status” confirmed Arcand, as quoted by La Presse.

However, Anticosti’s application still has to be approved first by the federal government and then by UNESCO itself. Best case scenario: they get their status in 2020. Meanwhile, Petrolia is free to continue its exploration.

“For us it doesn’t change much of the project” Arcand told the press. “We always said, since the beginning, that we will respect the contract.”

In this case, respecting the contract means allowing Petrolia to continue digging wells and begin hydraulic fracturing, and giving them $57 million of public money to help. This is all for the first, “exploration” phase, the one where they look for shale gas and petroleum that they hope to extract. This phase includes massive investments, which will return no benefit until the “exploitation” phase – a phase that will never happen if Anticosti gets its protected status.

While Arcand was insistent that the government wasn’t backing out of its contract, a letter expressing Quebec’s support to the municipality had a slightly more reassuring tone.  The letter, signed by Christine St-Pierre, minister of International relations, and Luc Blanchette, minister of Forests, promises that the government is already working on ensuring that they will be able to protect the entire Island in 2020.

With the province’s blessing two days before the deadline, Anticosti’s application can now be evaluated on the federal level. Ottawa, which has been conspicuously noncommittal on the matter so far, will decide in December if they will submit Anticosti’s candidacy to the UNESCO or not. There are currently 18 Canadian sites listed as World Heritage, including Vieux-Québec and Nahanni National Park Reserve.

This week some political and economic heavyweights (B. Landry, M. Jérôme-Forget, J. Facal among others) came out with a pro-petrol manifesto titled Manifeste pour tirer profit collectivement de notre pétrole a distinctly Quebec version of the GOP’s Drill Baby Drill. Quebec needs money and we can get some by digging some homegrown oil, so this group claims. And when I say digging, I mean fracking.

And while the public is being subjected to this soft-ball persuasion, the Association pétrolière et gazière du Québec is actively lobbying the government to make sure it has a safe and well remunerated place in Quebec’s energy future.* Meanwhile, Petrolia (one of the major benefactors of this project) is trying to block municipalities from legislating against oil projects. Petrolia claims only the Province has that right.

The group behind the manifesto has been rebuffed in today’s Le Devoir by retired professor, engineer and geologist Marc Durand. Durand attacks their shoddy logic, limp sources, and their utter failure to grasp the economics behind the hypothetical venture.

Though brief, their argument is that oil exploration would enrich Quebec’s economic situation by “l’amélioration de notre balance commerciale” and by creating jobs. Note, that they did not say that Quebec would enrich its coffers by being in charge of the whole operation. Likely because the rights to the lands have already been sold to private petroleum companies.

The deal would see Hydro-Quebec profiting only after 10 million barrels of oil have been produced. And though there is said to be 30-40 billion barrels-worth underground, according to Durand, only about 1,2% of those could be extracted by wells. The monetary figures, as economic windfall for the state are all of a sudden much less rosy.

Even the document the Manifeste cites to argue for a positive commercial export/import rate in Quebec advances domestic oil exploration as the last and most controversial remedy. In fact, this HSBC document seems to advocate for a reduction in consumption (gasp) as an avenue to fix our commercial deficit.

As such, even if their manifesto opens with the good-old quiet revolution prayer and a nod to Hydro-Quebec, this venture is the antithesis of an economically (not to mention ecologically) sound projet de société.

* From the Registre des lobbyistes: Représenter les intérêts des membres de l’Association pétrolière et gazière du Québec auprès des différents titulaires de charge publique relativement à l’élaboration et la modification de dispositions législatives et réglementaires et orientations reliées aux hydrocarbures. Les représentations de l’Association visent notamment les amendements projetés à la Loi sur les mines et ses règlements, la nouvelle loi sur les hydrocarbures que projette d’adopter le gouvernement du Québec et la nouvelle stratégie énergétique du Québec, de sorte que ces dispositions législatives et réglementaires et orientations prévoient un régime de redevances compétitif pour les entreprises exploitant des hydrocarbures au Québec et des modalités favorisant le développement sécuritaire de l’industrie des hydrocarbures au Québec, dans le respect de l’environnement, et que les hydrocarbures occupent une place plus importante dans la nouvelle stratégie énergétique du Québec.