Environmental hearings begin in Quebec today into the risks of tapping a 5,000-square-kilometre energy source one federal document calls an energy “game changer.”

The public hearings could be raucous given that tempers have already flared over Quebec’s push to exploit natural gas reservoirs buried under the St. Lawrence River lowlands.

The proposed endeavour to unlock gas from the shale has ignited boisterous protests in recent weeks. Quebecers concerned about potential environmental impacts have crammed public information sessions to grill industry leaders.

But government and industry players say the reservoirs are too lucrative to pass up. In just a few years, companies have leased the entire region.

Still, the fledgling industry is growing too fast for its opponents, prompting them to call for a province-wide moratorium on exploration and production.