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.