Nova Scotia

Millbrook chief wants Indigenous monitors to be able to shut down Alton gas project

Bob Gloade wants more Indigenous oversight of the proposed Alton natural gas storage project near Stewiacke, N.S. — including the power to shut down operations.

'To be able to walk into that building, shut it off so that way it does not cause any more detrimental harm'

Bob Gloade, chief of the Millbrook First Nation. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

A Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw chief wants more Indigenous oversight of the proposed Alton natural gas storage project near Stewiacke, N.S. — including the power to shut down operations.

Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade made the assertion before a Canadian Senate committee meeting last week.

The hearing was about marine protected areas, but Gloade spoke also about Indigenous participation in environmental monitoring.

He said via videolink from Nova Scotia that First Nations should have the ability and the authority "to stop something if they see something that's going to have a detrimental effect."

That caught the attention of Sen. Jim Munson.

"You talked, chief, about the ability to stop something. What did you mean by that, because the minister has the right to stop something. What right do you want to have to stop something?"

Gloade cited the Alton natural gas storage project — a source of friction between some First Nations, the province of Nova Scotia and the proponent, Calgary-based AltaGas.

'If there's fish floating in that river'

The company intends to use water from the Shubenacadie River estuary to hollow out salt caverns up to 700 metres below ground and return the briny water back into the river over a three-year period.

AltaGas has said it needs the storage caverns so its subsidiary Heritage Gas can stockpile natural gas in summer when prices are cheaper to protect customers from price shocks when demand spikes in winter.

Gloade wants to empower Mi'kmaw monitors.

"When the process they start brining and start dumping salt brine in that river and if there's fish floating in that river the monitor is going to have the ability to go to that proponent and tell him you have to shut it down immediately," Gloade said.

"Personally, I know where the switches is at that facility to shut down that plant and which building it's in. So I would need to be able to walk into that building, shut it off, so that way it does not cause any more detrimental harm to the rivers in the species that are there."

A Mi'kmaq camp is seen on the shores of the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis, N.S., in September 2016. They were protesting the proposed underground storage of gas in the area. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

AltaGas declined to do an interview.

Spokesperson Lori Maclean said in a statement the company is still negotiating Mi'kmaw participation in environmental monitoring, but it stands by planned safeguards.

Those include continuous computerized monitoring of salinity in the Shubenacadie River.

The discharge will shut down automatically if background salinity levels reach 28 parts per thousand — a potentially harmful threshold for fish.

Appeal sits with minister

The much delayed project has been on the drawing board for more than a decade.

In 2016, the Sipekne'katik First Nation appealed the Nova Scotia government's industrial approval for the project, but the minister of environment dismissed that appeal. 

A court set aside the dismissal and ordered the matter back to the minister for further action.

"The Alton Gas appeal still rests with the Environment Minister. No decision has been made," environment department spokesperson Rachel Boomer said in an email.

In the meantime, AltaGas has asked regulators for a extension on its construction permit to 2023.

The company says the two storage caverns should be in service by 2022.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.