Nova Scotia

Alton natural gas storage project to resume construction near Stewiacke

AltaGas Ltd. is moving forward with construction on natural gas storage facility but will not begin controversial brining process until court hears an appeal by the Sipekne'katik First Nation.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the Sipekne’katik First Nation in August

The work set to begin in July involves opening the riverbank along the Shubenacadie River. (CBC)

Construction on the Alton natural gas storage project near Stewiacke is scheduled to resume later this month, but members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation are not ready to give up their fight against the venture.

AltaGas Ltd., the company behind the project, plans to move in heavy machinery like excavators this summer to begin work on the bank of the Shubenacadie River. 

However the company said in a statement that the actual process of solution mining—referred to as brining—will not begin until after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court hears an appeal by the Sipekne'katik First Nation in August.

It's the brining process that is at the root of the band's objections to the project. AltaGas wants to use water from the river to dissolve the underground salt formations to create three natural gas storage caverns. 

"Our concerns with the project is brine going into the river and killing all the fish," said Chief Rufus Copage.

Salinity levels of river

The company maintained in its release that the water released back into the river will be within normal salinity levels, but the band worries about what will happen. 

"The issue is that it's untried and untested, and we don't even know the impact," said Sipekne'katik band solicitor James Michael.

"And by the time it gets released, the band fears that it may be too late, the river will suffer irreparable harm." 

Green light from province

The project was originally put on hold in 2014 as the province delayed issuing permits then subsequently dealt with several appeals.

But in January 2016, the provincial government gave the company the green light to proceed, saying that after 18 months AltaGas had satisfied its obligation to consult with the First Nations and enough modifications to the project were made.

Critical habitat proposal

Michael said the band is doing everything it can to protect the river. On June 28, the band submitted a proposal to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to have the Shubenacadie River listed as critical habitat for salmon.

"The band is trying to exhaust all of its legal remedies," he said. "But Alton gas aside, it's trying to protect the resources in the river."