Nova Scotia

First Nation's appeal of Alton Gas project back in court

Lawyers for the province, Sipekne'katik First Nation and Alton Gas are heading back to court Tuesday. At issue in the appeal is whether the government lived up to its duty to consult with the First Nation on a proposed natural gas storage project near the Shubenacadie River.

Sipekne'katik First Nation says provincial government hasn't adequately consulted the band

Alberta-based energy company AltaGas wants to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out nearby salt caverns to create space for natural gas storage. (Shawn Maloney)

Lawyers for the province, Sipekne'katik First Nation and Alton Gas are heading back to court today.

At issue in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court is whether the government lived up to its duty to consult with the First Nation on a proposed natural gas storage project near the Shubenacadie River. The hearing is set for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Alberta-based AltaGas has been pursuing an underground natural gas storage project in Nova Scotia for almost 20 years, starting with exploration in 2002.

The energy company selected a site in Alton, N.S., with underground salt deposits that, if removed, could make room for up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas.  

The Alton Gas project proposes using water from the Shubenacadie River to flush the salt deposits and then gradually return the briny mixture back into the river.

Both the company and the province have touted the potential benefit of the Alton Gas project in stabilizing natural gas rates.

The province granted Alton Gas environmental approval in 2007 and the project has inched forward, slowed in recent years by opposition from some Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq.

Margaret Miller, the former environment minister, gave the Alton Gas project industrial approval in 2016 — a decision that was appealed by six separate parties, including Sipekne'katik First Nation. 

Concerns about the project

The appeals claimed Miller's department didn't adequately consult with First Nations or use credible or sufficient scientific evidence when investigating the project's potential environmental impacts.

Miller dismissed the appeals, but Sipekne'katik took its complaint of inadequate consultation to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. There, in 2017, a justice quashed the minister's dismissal based on her department's failure to disclose documents to the First Nation.

In spring 2019, after giving Sipekne'katik time to respond to the new material, Miller made small amendments to the industrial approval, but again concluded that the government's duty to consult had been satisfied.

Sipekne'katik is pushing back on that ruling. 

Lawyers for the band, the Department of Environment, now headed by Gordon Wilson, and Alton Gas are scheduled to make their arguments beginning this morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Darlene Gilbert, a Mi'kmaw water protector, in 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, a group of Mi'kmaw women called the Grassroots Grandmothers and their supporters have been opposing the storage project based on environmental concerns. 

Darlene Gilbert, Madonna Bernard and Paula Isaac were arrested last April at a Mi'kmaw camp near Alton Gas's worksite. RCMP said the women breached a temporary court injunction to stay off the land.

Comparisons to B.C.

Gilbert said she participated in Wet'suwet'en solidarity protests in Halifax last week and sees parallels between the tension over the Coastal GasLink project in B.C. and the Alton Gas project.

In Northern B.C., where Coastal GasLink is looking to construct a natural gas pipeline through traditional Indigenous territory, there's discord between the elected First Nation band councils and hereditary leaders.

Most of the elected First Nations band councils in the area of the Coastal Gaslink project signed off on the construction of the pipeline, but the hereditary leaders oppose it, raising questions about who governments and corporations have a duty to consult.

In Nova Scotia, Sipekne'katik is asking for more consultation but not necessarily to quash the Alton Gas Project.

Gilbert, who is a member of Annapolis Valley First Nation, said there are no conditions under which she could support the project and she's not interested in consulting any further, because "they're not consulting properly with our people."

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About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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