After 700 km trek, group arrives in Montreal to protest against shale gas

MONTREAL – After a gruelling 700-kilometre trek through Quebec, Philippe Duhamel arrived Saturday to a hero’s welcome at a shale gas protest in Montreal.

Duhamel led a crew of marchers on a one-month journey along the St-Lawrence River, visiting dozens of towns rich in gas reserves on the way.

The goal was to draw attention to what critics argue are the dangers of shale gas development.

They say the process used to unlock natural gas contaminates groundwater and has disastrous consequences on the environment.

On Saturday, his group, sunburned and blistered, was greeted with cheers and applause by fellow anti-shale gas activists as they arrived in downtown Montreal.

“What we are witnessing now is the birth of a very strong citizen based movement,” he said.

“It’s been a tremendous experience in the sense that before we started on this walk we felt the movement was in a lull… The more we walked, the more people honked.”

Duhamel was joined by more than 2,000 people in a march that ended at Premier Jean Charest’s office.

Protesters called for a lengthy moratorium on shale gas development and a “transparent” study into the industry.

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The Quebec government has slowed development of its considerable shale gas deposits because of public concerns about the danger to the environment.

The province has launched a study into the environmental impact of the industry and promised to halt further development until it’s complete.

But Andre Belisle, one of the protest’s organizers, said that’s not enough.

“We want an evaluation committee that is credible (and) independent of the government, and we want all that to be done in the highest transparency,” he said, arguing the current study is rigged by the industry and being conducted behind closed doors.

While the protest took place without incident, some opponents of shale gas development have warned they might engage in civil disobedience.

Duhamel said last month the trek along the St-Lawrence is just the beginning, and there will be training sessions on how to organize sit-ins and occupy shale gas exploration sites.

The controversy surrounding shale gas continues to dog Quebec’s Liberal government, and opposition parties sense opportunity.

Both Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois and Amir Khadir, leader of the left-wing party Quebec Solidair and an outspoken critic of shale gas, took part in the protest.

Quebec’s Environment Minister Pierre Arcand expressed irritation Friday at critics of shale gas, saying they are spreading “falsehoods” about the industry and the government’s approach to the situation.

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