LAUNCH OF CONTROVERSIAL GAS STORAGE FACILITY POSTPONED IN STEWIACKE, NS
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by Michelle Moore
A natural gas storage facility 10 kilometres outside Stewiacke Nova Scotia has postponed their in-service date to 2021.
Alton Natural Gas Storage, a subsidiary of Calgary-based company AtlaGas Ltd was issued a permit by Nova Scotia Environment for the facility back in 2016 after ten years of consultations and environmental assessments.
The project would see natural gas stored in two underground caverns to be sold in the winter months when prices usually soar. The company claims this will save Nova Scotians an estimated $17 million a year.
Carrying this out involves using water from the Shubenacadie River to dissolve underground naturally-occurring salt deposits to create space for natural gas storage. The caverns would be 1000 metres underground and roughly the size of 25 storey office buildings.
Criticism has been heard from outraged citizens who fear what adding large salt content to the river will do to the fish and other aquatic life. A research team from Dalhousie University has been conducting tests on the Shubenacadie River since 2008 which included salinity testing on striped bass.
Over the last twelve years opposition to the project has seen every form. From protests and road blocks to occupations and court appeals; environmentalists, fishermen and Aboriginal Peoples have shown their concern about the project.
Even a small home equipped with a wood stove was built on the work site last year so that protesters could spend the winter. Protesters have been present at what they're calling Treaty Camp since May 17, 2017. For now however, things have been brought down to a simmer as the project has been postponed yet again.
Company spokesperson Lori MacLean explained "the in-service date for the project is 2021 and that's the date when the storage caverns will be ready to receive natural gas and the project will be operational. To build the caverns there's a process called brining that has to take place to dissolve the salt deposit which is deep underground and that's expected to begin this year in 2018."
MacLean specified that the brining process takes roughly two or three years which would bring us to 2021. Opposition groups on the other hand point to the lack of permissions from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with regards to their mixing channel; part of the process wherein salty water or brine from the caverns will be mixed in with tidal waters and then flow back into the river.
Mark McLean, Manager for the DFO Fisheries Protection Program for the Maritimes Region explained "we've advised Alton Gas that before they work on the mixing channel, because it's considered a fish habitat that they should put in a request for review with the DFO and then we would review it to determine whether or not the department had any approvals or authorizations to issue especially with the work that they have planned." To date, no such submission has been received.
According to the Alton Natural Gas Storage website so far "three salt cavern natural gas storage wells have been drilled. Construction is completed on the water transmission pipeline running from the river site to the cavern site. We are finishing construction of the electrical stations at the river site and the pumping facility at the cavern site."
Perhaps the most vocal of opposition groups has been the nearby Sipekne'katik First Nation, some of whom have been present at Treaty Camp the whole time. Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association and former Band Councillor said "it's part of their life, it's become where ... what they do, how they live, it's according to the needs of the river, so they're staying."
Maloney explained, "we knew when the drills left we knew there was going to be a postponement, but they didn't even tell us, they keep their cards close ... they're saying they're going to come back but the resistance is growing and there's so many people now, not just in Canada but globally that are aware of the Shubenacadie River. We've been to the UN and we also had a delegation in New Zealand recently. The efforts against Alton Gas to protect Shube River has taken a life of its own, it's like a spirit."
The Mi'kmaq Band has 2,598 members and is unique in that it stands alone in representing itself in the consultation process having withdrawn from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.
In December 2015 the Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMK), who is the treaty rights negotiation organization of the Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs, concluded "that if the project functions as it is intended, the project should not have significant impacts for the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia."
In a press release issued one month later the Sipekne'katik band expressed that "during the consultation process there was and is no way to oppose a project. The process expects us to allow proponents to come to our unceded territory and propose to do what they wish in the interest of economics." They also specified that the Mi'kmaq of Sipekne'katik is the original signatory to the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty.
In January 2018 Sipekne'katik First Nation won a court decision against Nova Scotia and Alton Natural Gas. Justice Suzanne Hood of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled the province was unfair in its dealings with the band.
Sipekne'katik had filed for an appeal with Iain Rankin, the Minister of Environment of Nova Scotia citing a lack of consultation and regard for their Aboriginal Treaty Rights. At the time the Minister denied the appeal which led to Sipekne'katik filing in The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
According to Sipekne'katik First Nation, there was a refusal to allow them "to respond to material provided by the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Environment to support the government's claim that it had consulted with Sipekne'katik about the Alton project as required by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution."
The court ruling outlines that the appeal of the industrial approval will be put back to the Environment Minister who must respond by June 2018. When this reporter inquired as to the state of his decision May 8, Media Relations Advisor for Nova Scotia Environment Chrissy Matheson responded that "the Minister is still reviewing the material. No decision has been made to date."
Meanwhile, Judge Hood ruled that the Nova Scotia Government was liable for 65% of the costs accrued by the First Nation in court costs, representing a total of $75 000. The Judge also ordered that Alton Natural Gas pay the remaining 35% of the court costs.