Nova Scotia

Protesters question Trudeau on Alton Gas project during Halifax visit

Prime minister stopped to speak with protesters about company's controversial plan to dump brine into the Shubenacadie River as it creates caverns in which to store natural gas.

Prime minister stopped to speak with protesters about controversial plan to use water from N.S. river

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks Thursday with Darlene Gilbert, a Mi'kmaw water protector, about the plan by Alton Gas to dump brine into a Nova Scotia river. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

About a dozen protesters unhappy with a controversial natural gas storage project in Nova Scotia gathered outside of a Halifax seniors residence on Thursday morning during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to the city.

After meeting with seniors inside about the federal budget, Trudeau stopped outside to speak with the protesters. Many of them carried "Stop Alton Gas" signs.

Darlene Gilbert, a Mi'kmaw water protector, confronted Trudeau about the plan by Alton Gas to create underground caverns to store natural gas by flushing salt deposits with water and dumping the brine back into the Shubenacadie River.

Gilbert didn't pull punches with Trudeau. 

"When are you going to stop poisoning our waters?" Gilbert asked the prime minister. "We are saying take Alton Gas out of our province now. It's our waterways."

'I'm concerned for my generation'

It's the second time in two days that Indigenous protesters have taken Trudeau to task.

The prime apologized Thursday for how he responded the night before at a Liberal fundraiser in Toronto to a protester advocating on behalf of a northern Ontario First Nation struggling with historical industrial dumping upstream from the community.

In Halifax, Trudeau pointed out the federal government announced last month it is stepping in to regulate Alton Gas's plan to use water from the Shubenacadie River.

The proposed federal regulations for the Alton Gas project will be aimed at managing potential threats to fish, fish habitat and human health — but the impact of these new rules remains unclear.

"I hear you on this," Trudeau told Gilbert. "I hear your emotions around this and I hear your anger."

"I'm not angry," Gilbert replied. "I'm worried, I'm concerned for my generation. I have grandchildren and children."

Long-running controversy

For the past 12 years, Alton Gas has been planning to pump water from the river to an underground site 12 kilometres away, where it will be used 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.

The project has been on hold since protests started in 2014, and a protest camp was set up near the river two years later.

Some members of the nearby Sipekne'katik First Nation have argued the project will damage the 73-kilometre tidal river, which runs through the middle of mainland Nova Scotia.

Alton Gas, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas, has said it is committed to safe operations that will protect the Shubenacadie River.

"As designed and operated, we are confident that Alton will not have an impact on fish or fish habitat in the Shubenacadie estuary," the company said in a statement last month.

Trudeau visiting New Brunswick next 

The prime minister was joined in Halifax by Bernadette Jordan, the MP for South Shore-St. Margarets and the federal minister of rural economic development.

At 2 p.m., Trudeau will be at the Garcelon Civic Centre in St. Stephen, N.B., where he's scheduled to meet with local seniors and talk about federal investments in a better quality of life for aging Canadians.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the federal health minister and the MP for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, will also be in attendance.

With files from The Canadian Press