A Small Town Took on a Drilling Company Endangering Its Water — and Won
“We are relieved that our right to protect our drinking water is finally recognized.”
A small town in Quebec just won a case against an oil and gas exploration and development company that was originally suing them for over $1 million for trying to protect their drinking water.
Ristigouche-Sud-Est is a township in Quebec with 157 residents and their legal battle began in 2011 when Gastem, a Montreal-based drilling company, was permitted to start drilling for oil and gas in the province of Quebec.
Residents were concerned that the drilling could have negative effects on their drinking water and so in 2013, the town passed a bylaw that stated that there had to be two kilometres between drill sites and residents’ water wells. The bylaw also prohibited the addition of chemical substances into the region’s soil.
Following this, the drilling company sued the municipality in August 2013, demanding $1.5 million dollars in damages (this amount was later reduced to $984,000).
Gastem said Ristigouche-Sud-Est adopted its bylaw impulsively to make it impossible for the company to do the drilling it was permitted to do. The company claimed the bylaw was illegal, according to The Guardian.
But a judge at the superior court of Quebec ruled against Gastem, stating the township was within its rights.
“Far from being adopted in an untimely and hasty manner, the bylaw was the result of a serious effort to address the concerns and demands of Ristigouche’s citizens,” Judge Nicole Tremblay wrote in her statement. “Public interest, the collective well-being of the community and the safety of residents must be weighed for all projects introduced into a municipality.”
The mayor of the town, Francois Boulay, told CBC that citizens have been worried about this for the last four years.
“Reason and law prevailed today,” Boulay said in a statement. “We are relieved that our right to protect our drinking water is finally recognized.”
Still, the battle to protect drinking water in the area continues.
A law from 2014 currently necessitates a 500-metre perimeter around drinking water sources, but Ristigouche-Sud-Est, along with 350 other municipalities, is fighting to have that no-drill zone expanded to two kilometres, according to The Guardian.
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