Reserves could create 10,000 direct jobs, former

Hydro-Québec CEO contends

LYNN MOORE, The Gazette

Published: Friday, November 28, 2008

Unconventional natural gas reserves in the St. Lawrence Lowlands could generate more jobs and economic benefits for the province than Hydro-Québec does, a former president of the provincial utility told an equally enthusiastic gathering at Quebec Exploration 2008 yesterday.

The projected figures for the Utica shale gas play “are so big,” Hydro-Québec’s almost pale in comparison, said André Caillé, the onetime Hydro boss. Caillé, also a former CEO of Gaz Métropolitain, now is a senior adviser for Junex, one of the junior companies with extensive holdings in the lowlands.

“The Utica shale (gas) is something that could be very very significant for Quebec, economically and socially,” he said.

Gas wells in those fields could generate 10,000 direct jobs and $10 billion in economic spinoffs, Caillé said Wednesday at the annual dinner of the CIM Petroleum Society’s Quebec branch.

The multibillion-dollar question is not whether there is gas in the lowlands – a broad swath of territory that runs between Montreal and Quebec City – but whether it can be retrieved economically, Caillé and others said during the four-day conference, which wrapped up yesterday.

U.S.-led advances in technology and horizontal drilling techniques make it easier and more profitable for producers to exploit shale formations, but costly testing is still needed in Quebec, said Michael Binnion, an executive with Calgary-based Questerre Energy. “High risk, high reward” defines the St. Lawrence Lowlands play, Binnion said during the conference.

A recent report from Calgary-based Triston Capital said it believes the lowlands could contain as much as 40 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, making it one of the largest unconventional gas plays in Canada. But the project is still in its infancy and technical challenges remain, the report said.

The rule of thumb is one trillion cubic feet of gas is worth $6 billion – if you can pump it out, said Raymond Savoie, president of Gastem, another Quebec-based junior with extensive land holdings in the region.

Major producers Talisman Energy and Forest Oil have bought into the play and are involved in field work.

This week, Canbriam Energy of Calgary paid $3.5 million to Quebec-based Petrolympic Ltd. and its joint venture partner Ressources et Énergie Squatex Inc. for an interest in their land holdings, which include positions in the lowlands.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008