This week Alton Gas officially announced their project won't be completed until 2021, a full 11 years after their original completion date. Information about this project has been hard to get, so here's a summary of what we know.
- Alton Gas has officially delayed their project completion date to 2021.
- All of the permits pertaining to Alton Gas’s gas pipeline are expired.
- DFO has not given a Letter of Advice to Alton Gas about how to clear their mixing channel without harming fish or fish habitat.
- Nova Scotia Environment has not responded to requests for clarification about the state of the overarching industrial permit. We think this is dubious.
- The Mi’kmaq Nation has never given permission for Alton Gas to operate.
According to CBC, Alton Gas’s sister company Heritage Gas told the provincial government that it would push back its “in-service date” to 2021. This is 11 years later than the proposed date in Alton Gas’s 2007 application for environmental assessment (see page 22).
This is no surprise to anyone close to the Treaty Camp against Alton Gas, as the company’s mixing channel is full of mud, the gas pipeline would pass through a future wilderness protected area, most of their permits for this project are expired or out of compliance, workers have been offsite for over a year, the company has closed its Stewiacke office, plans for two of the four proposed caverns have been cancelled, and the company has shown an overwhelming amount of bad faith towards water protectors and the public.
Alton Gas’s lack of permits and permissions
Alton Gas’s mixing channel is full of mud and has been since just weeks after it was built. Within two months of the channel being dug, it was visibly filling with mud. Water protectors at the Treaty Camp say that the river healed itself.
This channel is a critical part of making the caverns. The company would pull water from the Shubenacadie River from this channel, pipe it about 10km to the cavern site, use it to dissolve salt about 1km underground, and then pipe the resulting brine back to the channel. The idea behind the channel is that it will fill with water as the tide comes in, dilute the brine, and then wash the diluted brine out when the tide falls again.
With this channel full of mud, it is impossible for Alton Gas to conduct brining operations. All of Alton Gas’s pumps and pipes are buried.
I have discussed this matter with staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the provincial government, and there are two permitting issues at hand.
Alton Gas does not have DFO 'Letter of Advice'
DFO has a process called a ‘Request for Review’ through which companies must explain the details of their projects so that DFO can decide how to respond. Usually these reviews are used as a first step before considering a Fisheries Act Authorization, which is a much more intensive review process. If the project does not require a Fisheries Act Authorization, a Request for Review would result in a ‘Letter of Advice’, which gives some mitigation guidelines for the company to follow. If those guidelines are followed DFO would be satisfied that no serious harm to fish or fish habitat would happen as a result of that project and no Authorization would be needed.
Before Alton Gas attempts to clear the channel it will have to submit a Request for Review to DFO and get a Letter of Advice back. So far, they have not submitted this request nor received the letter.
This is great news for water protectors!
Water protectors at the Treaty Camp against Alton Gas have been camped at the front gate of Alton Gas’s river site with the intention to stop the company from doing work since May 2017. During that time, Alton Gas employees have visited the site and have been clearly told by water protectors they will not be completing this project as they have not been given consent to do so.
Alton Gas’s provincial industrial permit in question
For months I have been trying to determine the status of Alton Gas’s industrial permit, granted in 2016. This is the big overarching green light for the project to go forward, and includes a number of conditions.
Section 3(g) of the permit says:
“The Approval Holder shall notify the Department prior to any proposed extensions or modifications of the Facility, including the active area, process changes or waste disposal practices which are not granted until the Approval. An amendment to this Approval will be required before implementing any change.”
I asked the East Coast Environmental Law Association (ECELAW) about this, and they said this “may present an opportunity for intervention”:
“A redesigned salt mixing channel may require Ministerial approval or a Ministerial amendment to the existing approval. The need for an approval or amendment will depend on the scale and characterization of the redesign and the Minister can exercise considerable discretion when choosing which course to take.”
So I asked Nova Scotia Environment whether there have been any amendments to this permit. As of February 15th, Nova Scotia Environment’s main office is “working with the regional office on a response.” Since then it’s been radio silence.