Environment minister stands by decision on Alton Gas project
Company must develop communication plan for sharing environmental information with Sipekne'katik First Nation
The Nova Scotia government is standing by its decision to grant an industrial approval to the controversial Alton Gas project.
"I concluded that the consultations with the Sipekne'katik on this industrial approval have been sufficient," Environment Minister Margaret Miller told reporters Monday afternoon.
In 2016, the Sipekne'katik First Nation appealed the Nova Scotia government's industrial approval for the project, but the minister of environment dismissed it.
A court subsequently set aside the dismissal and ordered the matter back to the minister for further action.
At issue was whether there had been sufficient consultation with Indigenous people.
In a decision released Monday, Miller stuck by her earlier approval but added two new conditions.
They are the creation of a communications plan by the company to keep community members current on the project and a stipulation that the project must meet municipal, provincial and federal laws, both present and future.
"It's giving greater accountability, I believe," said Miller.
"We know our federal counterparts are in talks right now, are consulting right now on some new regulations, so we know that those will also be part of that industrial approval."
The plan by Alton Gas to use water from the Shubenacadie River to create huge underground caverns to store natural gas has been the subject of long-running protests.
Some members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation in nearby Indian Brook, N.S., have argued the project will damage the 73-kilometre tidal river, which runs through the middle of mainland Nova Scotia.
For the past 12 years, Alton Gas, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Alta Gas, has been planning to pump water from the river to flush out salt deposits, creating up to 15 caverns.
The leftover brine solution would then be pumped back into the river over two or three years.
Miller said she once shared the concerns being expressed by those lined up against the project.
"These ladies [the Mi'kmaw grandmothers], and many members of the Sipekne'katik band, are very passionate about the river and they're afraid that something's going to happen to it," she said. "Before that original decision was made in 2016 I had some reservations as well.
"It took me looking into all the science and evidence to be assured that it wouldn't have an impact. For me, that river is also sacred."
Miller has attachment to the river
Miller grew up less than a kilometre from the shores of the Shubenacadie River and feels a strong attachment to it.
"The science and the available evidence spoke to me and I believe that there will be safeguards in place for the river," she said.
The project has been on hold since protests started in 2014, and a protest camp was set up near the river two years later.
Miller acknowledged the process has been long and involved.
"I had to be assured that we had all the information that I needed and that we had a clear direction."
Alton Gas will take time to consider the developments.
"We have just received the decision from the Minister with respect to the appeal by Sipekne'katik First Nation," said Lori MacLean, the senior advisor for Alton Gas. "We are in the process of reviewing the decision at this time.
"Alton will continue to comply with all regulatory and legal requirements, including the new conditions in the Minister's decision."