Nova Scotia

Underground work on track to begin at Nova Scotia natural gas project

AltaGas is still on track to start hollowing out underground salt caverns for storing natural gas near Stewiacke, N.S., this year, despite protests and a recent announcement that it had delayed the completion date for the project.

Group opposed to the project says it contravenes Mi'kmaq treaty rights

A plan to use water from the Shubenacadie River to dissolve underground salt deposits is on track to begin in 2018. (CBC)

AltaGas is still on track to start hollowing out underground salt caverns for storing natural gas near Stewiacke, N.S., this year, despite a recent announcement that it had delayed the completion date for the project.

Members of an opposition group who have built a semi-permanent encampment on the site are hoping they can prevent that work from going ahead.

He said it tasted like freedom.- Dorene Bernard on man who ate trespassing notice

Lori Maclean, the senior adviser for the Alton natural gas storage project, would not say exactly what day the brining process — which involves using water from the Shubenacadie River to dissolve underground salt deposits — would begin, but she confirmed it would happen in 2018.

On March 15, AltaGas announced it was delaying the date when two underground caverns would be ready to store natural gas to 2021 from 2020.

Dorene Bernard from the Sipekne'katik First Nation says she will remain on the site to protect the water. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Dorene Bernard, a self-described grandmother and water protector from the neighbouring Sipekne'katik First Nation, said the project contravenes Mi'kmaq treaty rights. That's why she and others are maintaining a constant presence on the land. 

She said she wants to stop the project before it destroys the local environment.

"The river is worth protecting and she's depending on us," Bernard said. "I want to bring my grandson here and fish," she said.

The province has completed two environmental assessments for the project. A third-party reviewer was also hired by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs to assess the potential impacts on fish and fish habitat.

Members of the Sipekne'katik band placed this flag on the AltaGas site in 2016. (Robert Short/CBC)

Bernard said Nova Scotians should be moving away from a dependence on fossil fuels, "not building a fifty-year project."

Maclean said natural gas users in Nova Scotia typically convert from more carbon-intensive fuels, such as oil or electricity produced by burning coal. As such, she said, natural gas plays "an important role" in helping the province meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

This straw bale structure was built behind the barrier in 2017, on property owned by AltaGas. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Last weekend, Protection of Property Act notices were handed out to people on the site who were trespassing, Maclean said. Only staff and approved contractors are allowed to be on the property, she said.

Bernard said she didn't accept the notice handed to her. "We have a right to be here to protect the water," she said.

Another man ate his notice, Bernard said. "He said it tasted like freedom."

One man ate his trespassing notice in protest, Bernard says. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Officials with AtlaGas met with members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation in 2017 to discuss a potential benefit agreement, including funding for a new highway gateway, an aquaculture project for striped bass and energy efficiency upgrades at band buildings.

No agreement has been signed. 

The band has appealed the province's industrial approval of the project on the grounds that members were not adequately consulted. Nova Scotia's environment minister is expected to decide on that appeal in June.

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC's Information Morning