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Making a splash in Halifax: Stop Alton Gas, Save the Shubie

Activists and concerned community members adorned the pedways over Duke St. in downtown Halifax with signs reading “STOP ALTON GAS” and “SAVE SHUBIE.” Just as these messages rested back-to-back above the bustling street, these two notions are dependent on each other. The Alton Natural Gas Storage Project poses huge threats to one of Nova Scotia’s most cherished and sacred rivers, the Shubenacadie River a traditional water highway.

The coalition group passed out 400 flyers talking to passers-by on their way to work. Over the past year and a half, local residents groups, fishing and river associations, and Indigenous communities have made their concerns known. This action demonstrated a united front between those local groups and, Halifax-based activists. This coalition is not new, they have been standing shoulder to shoulder ever since learning about details of the project in 2014. Despite this unity, the media has framed the opposition to Alton Gas as an “Indigenous issue.”

This action is the latest in ongoing efforts to prove the diversity in the stance against Alton Gas. Last week, seven groups filed appeals to the Minister of Environment asking for better research and consultation around the project.

A group of concerned Bentwood residents, whose property is less than 1km away from the proposed caverns in some cases, filed a joint appeal. Living next to the project site, they have seen time timeline of developments first hand. They are able to bring to light the discrepancies between the permits issued and work done. For example, the 2007 EA stated that work needed to start within two-years. There was no sign of anything done until 2014 when trees were cleared for an access road. There are more than 250 people who reside within a 2km radius of the project, who would at risks should the project suffer cavern failure, pipeline ruptures, or methane leaks.

The Striped Bass Association filed an appealing calling out inconsistencies in the private studies that were carried out as part of the requirements for permitting. Art Rebben of the Association stated, “Alton Gas has not been forthcoming with the actual amounts – they’ll quote so many litres of brine, but not salt. For one cavern – they have to add 1500 cubic metres of salt. That means every day, a line of 1.8km of dump trucks every day, per cavern, dumping salt in the river.”

Members of the Shubenacadie River Commercial Fishermen’s Association have been fishing in that area for year and years. That same area is now restricted to them, with no consultation and many questions left unanswered. This Association has been asking DNR and NSE for consultation since 2014 with no avail. “The minute they press that button, juvenile and small fish, freshwater, and other creatures will be flushed into that stream pulling water out of the river… This is a beautiful river system, and they’re going to destroy it” said President of the Association, Willie Courtney.

The Ecology Action Center filed an appeal based on “the Province and Alton Gas’s failure to conduct a credible environmental assessment that includes both scientific knowledge and public consultation.” Environmental assessments leave major questions around issues like repeated brine exposure of eggs and fry, exposure to 20-30 ppt salinity concentrations, and food chain interactions. In addition, there was no analysis on the project’s projected effects on homing abilities for migration and spawning for several protected species including Striped Bass. The EA did not include Tommy cod in its analysis, an important species for the Aboriginal and settler commercial fisheries. Robin Tress, Coastal Adaptation Coordinator at the EAC says, “without a more complete understanding of the risks involved and how we may avoid them, we cannot allow this project to go forward.”

The Council of Canadians’ filed an appeal was based on 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.

The appeal filed by Sipekne’katik First Nation, and supported by Millbrook First Nation, calls out the Province’s failure to fulfill its’ legal obligations of consultation and accommodation before granting the necessary approval of operations. Cheryl Maloney of Sipekne’katik First Nation and NS Native Women’s Association stated, “we’ve asserted our right to be consulted. And if you look at the case law, the cases where there is a strong claim – and the Mi’kmaq have a strong claim to this, in those situations the Supreme Court has stated that you need the highest level of consent.”

You can read the appeal filed by Sipekne’katik here.

It is becoming clear that this project represents not only one local battle, but a sends a larger message about how the province plans to honour the Treaties. All people who reside on the land of Mi’kma’ki have a responsibility to respect and fulfill their duties under the Peace and Friendship Treaties. Inadequate consultation and damage to resources protected by Aboriginal Title are a violation of these Treaties. “There has been a lack of community engagement in this process to have our community members concerns addressed in a proper manner. This jeopardizes our rights for food social and ceremonial purposes as this river is the last spawning area for striped bass in the province and has our community concerned, “said Chief Bob Gloade, Millbrook First Nation.

The Alton Gas project is yet another line being drawn in the extraction-based economy. On one side are those who wish to honour our Treaties and move toward a sustainable and just future within ecological limits. On the other are those who wish to continue the reckless expansion of archaic fossil fuel infrastructure in search of profit.

Margaret Miller, the NS Environment Minister and MLA for Hants East has stated that work will continue while the appeals are considered. She has 60 days to make a decision. The appeals challenge the industrial approval which allows for the construction to begin on the brine ponds and solution mining of the salt caverns. It is us to us, as the citizens of Nova Scotia, to make it known to our Government representatives what type of economy we want to move towards – to go forward or backwards.

Sidenote: If you are not aware of Miller’s district of Hants East, it may be helpful to know that her Twitter handle is @mmillershubie. That is right, Miller has tied her a part of her identity to the same Shubie (Shubenacadie) River directly threatened by this project. This river has a huge cultural significance to Indigenous and settlers in Nova Scotia.

Take action!

If you are concerned about this Alton Gas Natural Storage Project, you can write, call or tweet to Premier Stephen McNeil (@StephenMcNeil) and Minister of Environment Margaret Miller (@ns_environment) demanding:

  • Alton Gas is ordered to halt the operations while these appeals are being considered.

  • No more permits are issued until the Government fulfills their duty to consult with the local community, First Nations and other affected groups