* Moratorium would last a maximum of five years
* Government had promised a ban, citing public concerns
OTTAWA May 15 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.