The potential for oil and gas in Quebec dates back to Jacques Cartier. Oil naturally seeps to surface in many places in Quebec including along the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in the Gaspe Peninsula. Jacques Cartier actually used tar from these natural surface seeps to repair his ships.

The potential for natural gas was also discovered early in the history of Quebec. Natural gas seeps to surface and can catch on fire from natural sources. Examples of this are at the sands in Lotbinierre or the Devil’s Fountain.

Farmers were also aware very early about natural gas potential since natural gas is found in many water wells. Farmers have found ways for more than 100 years to utilize natural gas found while drilling for water. This is often called “farmer’s gas” and is not economical to develop or sell.

Because of the methane in groundwater sources, Quebec has regulations and guidelines in place for the construction of water wells. These regulations are designed to ensure that natural gas is safely vented to the atmosphere. Improper water well design can allow natural gas in to dwellings where it could become a fire hazard. Methane is not dangerous to health but it is of course flammable.

The oil and gas industry took note of both the surface seeps and the farmer’s gas and realized there were active oil and gas basins in Quebec.

Of course, there was already geological study and information available in Quebec. Sir William Edmond Logan – who was born in Montreal and would eventually establish the Geological Survey of Canada – carried out significant geological mapping in Quebec in the mid-1800s (Mt. Logan and Logan’s Line are also named after him.)

Industry carried out additional study and started drilling wells based upon Logan’s mapping, looking for natural underground reservoirs containing commercial quantities of oil. In those times natural gas was not typically a commercial product, and was often considered waste from oil production.

The first well in the St. Lawrence Lowlands was drilled in 1873, but the first serious modern program of exploration was carried out by Shell in the 1950s and 1960s. A great deal of the available seismic data and public geological mapping is based on this program. Shell did find hints of reservoirs in the naturally fractured shales underground, but it was not able to identify any commercial reservoirs.

In the 1970s, to increase Quebec’s independence, the Rene Levesque government nationalized the energy industry in Quebec. At this time SOQUIP was formed to explore for oil and gas in Quebec. SOQUIP carried out the second serious program of exploration at a high cost and found two minor natural gas reservoirs. These reservoirs are currently used for natural gas storage.

In the mid-1980s the government determined that the risks of oil and gas exploration were better managed and better afforded by the private sector. Quebec followed an international model of awarding licenses based on commitments to carry out work programs instead of the American model of bonus bids with no work commitments. This is the model still followed in Norway today.

In 1985 Dr. Michael Pick founded Terrenex based on his new geological idea for how there could be a deep source of natural gas in the St. Lawrence Lowlands. Bow Valley Industries (Talisman today) and Amerada Hess (Suncor today) joined Terrenex in a third significant phase of exploration in Quebec. While a deep source of natural gas from the Utica shale was proven, once again no commercial reservoirs were found.

In 2000 Questerre was founded by Terrenex to look for large natural gas fields in Canada by exploring in new types of rock. Their first projects were in the St. Lawrence Lowlands and Gaspe Penninsula. Talisman joined Questerre in 2005 with five different concepts to find new types of reservoirs. In 2006 the Gentilly well was drilled and became the first well cored for production of natural gas from shale in Quebec.

In 2007 Junex and Gastem were able to attract Forest Oil to Quebec on the basis of the Utica Shale’s natural gas potential. The first wells to be completed as shale gas wells were fracced by Forest Oil, Junex, Gastem and Questerre in early 2008. Though exhibiting initial success, these first three wells proved not to have sustained high-rate production.

In the summer of 2008, Talisman and Questerre tested another zone in the Utica Shale at the St. Edouard well that did prove to have sustained high-rate, high-pressure natural gas. Several wells have been completed for Utica natural gas since then by a number of different oil and gas companies with widely differing results.

The discovery of the Utica natural gas deposit holds out the promise, after decades of exploration efforts in Quebec, of being a significant commercial discovery. Although no comprehensive study of the Utica’s full potential has yet been performed, early assessments suggest that it could hold more than 20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable natural gas, enough to meet Quebec’s natural gas demands for more than 100 years.