Alton Gas hearing delayed until November
FRAM DINSHAW | STAFF REPORTER
Published August 18, 2016
The Sipekne’katik First Nation’s court battle to halt Alton Natural Gas Storage LP’s controversial natural gas storage facility near Stewiacke is now on hold until November.
Yesterday’s Supreme Court session in Halifax was merely focused on the admissibility of affidavit evidence for an upcoming November hearing after the one planned for August did not go ahead. No date for the November hearing is confirmed at time of writing.
But as the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s legal fight remains on hold, Alton is legally free move ahead with its plans to prepare three underground caverns for natural gas storage. The company will pump in water to salt out from the caverns and pump the brine into the Shubenacadie River system via an artificial channel. Stored gas can then be distributed via pipelines to homes and businesses.
“It’s going to ruin our river. We don’t have all the facts yet,” said Sipekne’katik chief Rufus Copage.
But Alton spokesman Larry Lalonde said that the project was only given a go-ahead after an environmental assessment process that included a third-party review involving the Mi’kmaq First Nation.
The assessment process included multiple studies on fish habitats, including the Atlantic Salmon that populate the Shubenacadie River, eventually ruling that gas storage cabins will not significantly affect nearby ecosystems.
Band solicitor James Michael was still not entirely convinced that the brine process was safe.
“I don’t think this has been tried before,” said Michael. “It’s completely untested.”
According to Alton’s website, brine released during cavern construction will be emptied into a an artificial channel connected to the Shubenacadie River where it will mix with brackish tidal river water to maximize dilution.
Data collected by the company shows that tidal water flow at the mouth of the Shubenacadie River is approximately 55 million m3 with each tide. During peak production, the release of brine on each tide will be approximately 5,000 m3. The company says that organisms living in a tidal river system are already adapted to quick changes in salinity levels, meaning that diluted brine released into the tidal river will be within normal salinity levels.
In addition, company says that brine will not impact the Shubenacadie River’s ecosystem as construction will be monitored by both the provincial and federal environment ministries, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Lalonde also told the Chronicle Herald that his company had discussed the project with community members, including Copage and the Sipekne’katik First Nation.
“We have been working diligently trying to reach out to members of his band and urban communities,” said Lalonde.
Lalonde said that storage cavern construction will likely be completed by fall. Heavy machinery and other construction equipment has already been deployed onto the river site.
“It could be ready by that time,” said Lalonde, who was unable to give a precise timeline.
But Copage and his band wanted a court injunction would halt any planned work by Alton Gas until the Aug. 17 — 18 hearing.