Abenaki band council signs off on Questerre Energy’s shale gas pilot project 

Some community members concerned about the environment, transparency.

The Abenaki band council of Wôlinak signed a joint economic development agreement with Questerre Energy, an oil and gas company that will allow shale gas development on their traditional territory in exchange for economic benefits pending the signature of the final agreement.

The agreement, which is also considered a memorandum of understanding between Questerre and the Wôlinak band council, outlines plans for a pilot gas production hub on the traditional territory of the Abenaki First Nation of Wôlinak.

Questerre announced the signature of the joint economic development agreement on Jan. 20.

The council only shared the news with the community on Jan. 31 via Facebook.

Some Abenakis feel blindsided by the deal.

Thommy Gill is the grand chief of the Wabanaki Warriors society and lives in the neighbouring Abenaki community of Odanak. He says the Wôlinak band council did not give its community enough details about the project.

“In Wôlinak, they got no information until two days ago, which I saw on Facebook. So it’s way too tight of a delay. We didn’t have time to prepare anything,” said Gill.

He says it’s not the first- time band councils have made this kind of announcement without community consultation.

Last fall, the Odanak band council approved Original Traders Energy (OTE)’s proposal to build an oil site on the community.

Community members formed Coalition Odanak and held a protest to make their voices heard.

“What happens is it’s the same problem in communities we’ve already defended against in the past, against pipelines, against the OTE project in Odanak. We really want to avoid pollution on our lands, that they become contaminated,” said Gill.

Gill and other Wabanaki Warriors say they are planning to organize in opposition to the project.

“I’m stating my opposition to this to make sure we can conserve our land, to make sure they don’t get polluted, and that we don’t have to move from our lands and abandon our Indigenous Abenaki title, so we can preserve it for future generations.,” said Gill.

The Wôlinak band council’s Facebook post announcing the agreement provoked negative comments from community members who raised concerns about pollution and council’s lack of transparency.

But Questerre’s CEO Michael Binnion says the agreement was three years in the making, consulting with members of the Abenaki business community, Wôlinak’s chief and council, and surrounding municipalities.

He indicated further consultations with the rest of the Abenaki community of Wôlinak will take place per the terms of the memorandum before the final agreement is signed.

“We’ve taken the initiative as a private company to be proactive about recognizing unextinguished rights over traditional territories, that you should have a right to participate.  It’s a precedent that I think would be important for First Nations,” said Binnion.

The agreement includes profit-sharing and a commitment to involving Abenaki businesses in the project.

He says this pilot project will test new fracking-free shale gas extraction methods along the Nicolet River.

“In this sense I give a lot of credit to the environmental movement in Quebec, that their protests, and their moratorium, and all of that, forced me to say OK, is there another way to do this,” said Binnion.

Binnion said this production will have net-zero carbon emissions by using electric equipment and recycling captured carbon dioxide. It will also not use potable water and store carbon dioxide emissions for future recycling.

Questerre still has to navigate the legalities with Quebec.

The government prohibits extraction of oil and gas in the province, including on Indigenous territory.

The Wôlinak band council declined APTN News requests on the subject.

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