A small Canadian town of 157 people won a million-dollar legal battle against an oil and gas company that sued the small Quebec township after its residents took measures to protect their water supply.
“We are relieved that our right to protect our drinking water is finally recognized,” François Boulay, the mayor of Ristigouche Sud-Est, a township on Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, said in a statement.
In 2011 the province of Quebec gave drilling permits to Gastem, a Montreal-based company. When construction of a drilling platform began in the township’s territory, residents became concerned about the impact drilling could affect on their water resources. In 2013, the town passed a law creating a two-kilometer no-drill zone around its water supply.
The company responded with a lawsuit arguing the township passed an illegal law to prevent the drilling project from moving forward. Gastem claimed roughly US$1.2 million in damages, which significantly exceeded the township’s annual budget.
This week, a judge at the superior court of Quebec ruled the township acted within its right to protect its water supply and uphold the public interest. In her ruling, Judge Nicole Tremblay wrote: “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 court also ordered Gastem to pay half of the township’s legal fees and an extra US$7,700 to cover other expenses; the company can appeal the ruling.
People from across Canada showed their support for the small township, raising over US$265,507 to help with the legal fees.
Over 350 municipalities are lobbying to expand the protected no-drill zone established in a 2014 law from 500 meters to two kilometers.