QUEBEC - Quebec Minister of Natural Resources Martine Ouellet didn’t wait for the first cabinet meeting to announce that the new PQ government will not green light shale gas exploration.

She said the Parti Quebecois will maintain a full-out ban on hydraulic fracturing.

“I don’t see a day when there will be safe technologies that will enable safe shale gas,” she said early Thursday.

Ouellet cast doubts upon the committee working on the ongoing Strategic Environmental Assessment, suggesting that it contained members who might be prone to encouraging the practice.

“We denounced the Strategic Environmental Assessment committee, which has members in direct conflict of interest. How do you want to win the confidence of the population when there are people directly involved?" she asked.

She agreed, however, that an environmental assessment is required.

The Charest government had chosen to wait for the assessment before proceeding with any large-scale granting of exploration permits.

Shale gas is a controversial issue in the St. Lawrence Valley. Several companies have drilling permits, but thousands of citizens oppose their projects. They fear contamination of soil and groundwater.

Currently there is no moratorium in place.

Exploration is now permitted but without hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process that cracks rock by injecting a fluid under high pressure, to gain access to gas.

Some hydraulic fracturing was authorized, for a limited period for the purpose of research under a controlled environment.

As of March, Quebec had 31 wells, 18 of which had been fractured with hydraulics..

Proponents had projected 150-600 wells in Quebec by 2015.

In December 2010, a Quebec environment BAPE report stated that 19 of 31 wells inspected by the Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife (MRNF), had natural gas fumes escaping.

The wells, all drilled after 2006, are in Lotbinière, Bécancour and Maskoutains.