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Alton gas storage project put on hold!

Council of Canadians organizer Tori Ball at a Feb. 2016 media conference announcing appeals of the provincial government’s approval of the Alton Natural Gas Storage project.


The Council of Canadians has been opposing for the past two years a plan by Alton Natural Gas Storage LP to store natural gas near the rural community of Alton, which is situated about 75 kilometres north of Halifax.


The company, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas Ltd., has proposed creating storage facilities for natural gas by drilling three wells in underground salt caverns. The idea is that the wells would be used to store natural gas to hedge against higher natural gas prices in the winter. The project would also include two 12-kilometre pipelines. One would be used to pump water from the Shubenacadie River estuary to flush the salt out of the caverns (to make way for the gas to be stored) and the other for transporting the resulting salt brine mixture into storage ponds that would be built beside an estuary in Fort Ellis (and then discharged back into the river).


In November 2014, the Chronicle Herald reported, “The Mi’kmaq community claims that the project tramples on treaty and fishery rights, while native and non-natives alike say a change in the salinity level of the river could affect fish, particularly the endangered striped bass. …The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs [has] demanded that the project be stopped immediately because ‘meaningful consultation has not taken place’. Mi’kmaq protesters claim their treaty and fishing rights are jeopardized by the work being done at the estuary near Fort Ellis.”


In January 2016, the province of Nova Scotia approved the project. It said it had satisfied its obligation to consult with First Nations.

That same month, the Council of Canadians expressed its support for a letter that was sent to Premier Stephen McNeil highlighting that the Sipekne’katik and Millbrook First Nations planned to hold a referendum on the issue of whether to allow natural gas storage and the dumping of brine waste into the river system.


In February, six separate appeals against the project were filed with the Nova Scotia environment department. At a February 18 media conference announcing these appeals, Halifax-based Council of Canadians organizer Tori Ball stated, “We find the risks posed to the local residents’ drinking water from cavern failure or seepage to be in violation of the human right to water and sanitation. The government has an obligation to undertake measures to protect, respect and fulfill this human right. As such, the Council of Canadians calls on the Department of Environment to repeal the approval for Alton Natural Gas Storage Project.”


In a subsequent blog, Ball wrote, “The Council of Canadians filed an appeal [noting] the inadequate research into effects on well-water in the area. The environmental assessment underplays the presence and dependence on wells for residents in the area. Without a prior knowledge and understanding of these effects, they cannot be properly protected. The approval of this project without these protections is an infringement on the human right to water.”


Now, Local XPress reports, “A department spokeswoman said [on April 6] that Environment Minister Margaret Miller is reviewing the information provided in the appeals of the permits that would allow the company to operate a brine storage pond near the estuary and lease Crown lands for the project.”

And it highlights, “Although it gained environmental approval from the provincial government in January to go ahead with the $130-million first phase of the underground gas storage venture, an AltaGas spokesman confirmed [on April 6] that the Colchester County project will remain on hold for several months.”

The newspaper adds, “All the groups that oppose the project are expected to join the Sipekne’katik band members for a peaceful protest in front of the legislature in Halifax on April 14.” Ball and Atlantic regional organizer Angela Giles will be at that protest. For more details on the Sipekne’katik Alton Gas Demonstration, please click here or here.


The government is expected to announce its decision on the appeals on May 19.


The company says it has decided to pause “major construction activities” on the gas storage project until this summer.

Blogs by Tori Ball
The Unacceptable Risk of Alton Gas Storage (January 19, 2016)
Council of Canadians announces appeal to approval of Alton Gas Storage permits (February 18, 2016)
Making a splash in Halifax: Stop Alton Gas, Save the Shubie (February 26, 2016)