Alton natural gas project sees delays into 2017

Massive amounts of salt won't be filtered into the Shubenacadie River until next year as AltaGas Ltd. makes changes to its natural gas storage site near Stewiacke, N.S.

AltaGas has also reduced the number of planned storage caverns from three to two

AltaGas says it's holding off on creating its underground natural gas storage caverns until some time in 2017. (Shawn Maloney)

Massive amounts of salt won't be filtered into the Shubenacadie River until next year as AltaGas Ltd. makes changes to its natural gas storage site near Stewiacke, N.S. 

The Calgary-based company says it's holding off on creating its underground natural gas storage caverns until some time in 2017. They'd planned to start the process, called salt brining, in late 2016. 

"It's an operational decision based on pieces of work remaining to be accomplished at the sites," spokeswoman Lori MacLean said Saturday.

Delaying the brining process isn't the only change the company has made to the project. MacLean said AltaGas has reduced the number of storage caverns from three to two. The third would have been "a bit close to the edge of the property," located about 60 kilometres from Halifax.

The $100-million Alton Natural Gas Storage Project has faced many ups and downs, with permit delaysroad blocks and continued environmental protests.

'The project is carrying on'

MacLean took the opportunity on Saturday to discount rumours AltaGas was pulling out from the site entirely, after the company announced Friday drilling equipment will soon be removed. MacLean said that has nothing to do with the discarded plans for a third salt cavern.

"The removal of the rig simply signifies that it's being returned [to its owner]," she said. "The project is carrying on." 

In Friday's update the company said site work has continued on a daily basis at both sites. But Cheryl Maloney, a representative for Mi'kmaq protesters, said otherwise. 

"It's been really quiet [at the river]," she said. "Some fencing guy putting up fences." 

Cheryl Maloney has helped to lead protests against the Alton Gas project. (Robert Short/CBC)

The mixing channel

Maloney said many believe the company isn't being fully transparent about changes to the cavern site. 

"We're wondering what they're finding down there. Is there sand where there shouldn't be?"

Maloney also said protesters have noticed rising mud and sand levels in the mixing channel, an AltaGas-built offshoot of the river in which brine will be pumped from the cavern site, measured, then filtered back into the river.

The mixing channel at the Alton Gas project site is mostly filled with mud, according to this photo taken Oct. 5, 2016, protesters say. (Shawn Maloney)

Maloney said that's a problem for the company and its environmental monitoring. 

"Alton's science on how this [Bay of Fundy] tide system would work and wash out the salinity, failed to consider that it's also going to wash in this mud, so the channel is rising."

MacLean called this concern "inaccurate."

"What we want to do moving forward is work with the Mi'kmaq on environmental monitoring for the project," MacLean said. "We would welcome that opportunity." 

'We feel we're winning'

Maloney says those in opposition to the Alton Gas project will use the extra months caused by the salt-brining delay to continue raising awareness. 

Indigenous treaty-mandated fishing won't stop in the meantime, she said. The group will also continue monitoring the mud buildup in the channel. Advocates will begin public outreach sessions in the next four to six weeks.

"We feel we're winning. The signs are that we're winning," Maloney said. "But we need Nova Scotians to become informed and be active players in this in order to protect Nova Scotia waterways and possible fracking." 

About the Author

David Irish

Reporter

David Irish is a reporter and digital editor for CBC Nova Scotia. He has a keen interest in issues affecting towns and rural communities in the province. Contact him with story ideas at dave.irish@cbc.ca.