Sipekne’katik ready to protest over approvals for Alton Gas Storage to construct salt caverns

Sipekne'katik Band Chief Rufus Copage says protests will likely happen now that Alton Natural Gas Storage has approval to move forward with plans to store natural gas in salt caverns along the Shubenacadie River/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Nova Scotia government’s decision to grant approvals to a company that wants to store natural gas in salt caverns along the Shubenacadie River has prompted the province’s second largest Mi’kmaw community to threaten protests and permanently withdraw from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.

“There’s a good chance we’re all going to be protesting down there again,” Sipekne’katik Band Chief Rufus Copage said Thursday.

Copage said both he and his fellow councillors are upset the Nova Scotia government ignored their request to delay the decision until they were able to hold referendum on the project in the community.

MIllbrook First Nation Chief and Council had also indicated they also wanted to hold a referendum in their community on the issue.

Alton Natural Gas Storage LP wants to create three underground salt caverns along the Shubenacadie River to store natural gas. The company proposes to remove naturally occurring salt from the ground by drilling a well into the salt formation and flooding it with tidal water from river to dissolve the salt.

The combination of the tidal water and salt, called brine, would cycle back up the well and create an empty space to store natural gas. The company proposes to pump the brine into a holding pond and then release it back into the river.

NS Government grants approval for Alton Gas project to move forward

On Thursday, the provincial government granted approval to Alton Natural Gas Storage LP to operate a brine storage pond, a lease to complete the dispersion channel and an agreement to construct a dyke on crown land.

Alton Natural Gas previously received approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board in 2013 to construct the salt caverns.

“The project is a safe way of adding to our cleaner energy infrastructure and helps with creating a more diverse energy mix in the province,” Energy Minister Michel Samson said during a news conference in Halifax Thursday.

Samson said Nova Scotia customers could save approximately $17-million yearly if natural gas was stored for use during the colder months.

Alton Natural Gas Storage plans to construct three underground salt caverns along the Shubenacadie River to store natural gas/Photo by Stephen Brake
Alton Natural Gas Storage plans to construct three underground salt caverns along the Shubenacadie River to store natural gas/Photo by Stephen Brake

In 2014, Sipekne’katik band members protested the construction of the gas storage project over environmental concerns. In particular, the protesters were concerned the brine might affect fish and wildlife and impact their treaty rights to fish and hunt.

Sipekne’katik chief and council insisted that more consultation and study was needed before they could approve the project.

As a result, the Nova Scotia government paid for an independent third-party review which was commissioned by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. A Mi’kmaq peer review committee reviewed the results along with a Department of Fisheries and Oceans science assessment of peak spawning for Striped Bass.

“No significant impacts were identified,” Minister Samson said during the news conference.

“As a result of the consultation process, modifications have been made to the operations and monitoring programs to minimize risk even further,” he added.

Other modifications include extending its annual shutdown period during the peak spawning season for striped bass to 24 days, creating a community liaison committee and a Mi’kmaq engagement plan in the ongoing science and monitoring plan.

“Consultation is not a process to grant approvals” – KMKNO

In a news release issued by the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO), also known as the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, on Thursday, the organization stated that “consultation is not a process to grant approvals, it is a process to identify and address concerns and impacts.”

Paul (PJ) Prosper was re-elected chief of Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation, N.S. Nov. 19/Photo by Stephen Brake
Paqtnkek Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper /Photo by Stephen Brake

“Our scientists and conservation organizations attempted to determine if this project is safe by evaluating all of the potential associated risks,” said Paqtnkek Chief Paul (P.J.) Prosper, the lead chief of the energy portfolio with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs, in the news release.

“Before any decisions were made by the Province, we wanted to be sure that these concerns were heard and addressed,” Chief Prosper added.

Chief Copage says the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chief’s direct involvement in that third-party review was the final straw that prompted his councillors to vote to withdraw from the assembly altogether.

“The Assembly works for KMKNO,” Chief Copage said.

In addition to holding protests, Chief Copage said he also plans to explore the possibility of turning to the courts to resolve their issues with the project.

“Well, if we have an opportunity to go to court, I guess going to court may be the other option, he said.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.