Environment Minister says consultations for Alton Gas project were 'sufficient'

Margaret Miller

Nova Scotia's Environment Minister has released her decision on the appeal of the industrial approval for the Alton Gas project, saying consultations with Sipekne'katik First Nation were sufficient.

Margaret Miller states that the terms and conditions of the approval are sufficient to protect the environment.

However, the approval has been amended to require the company to meet all applicable provincial, federal and municipal laws, including any future amendments to them.

It also requires Alton Gas to develop a communication plan for information sharing with Sipekne'katik First Nation on environmental issues that may require an amendment to the approval.

The first nation has 30 days to appeal.

The department issued industrial approval to Alton Natural Gas Storage LP in January 2016 to operate a proposed brine storage pond in Colchester County, which led to six appeals.

All six were dismissed in April 2016, after which the Sipekne'katik First Nation appealed the Minister’s decision to the Supreme Court on issues of procedural fairness and adequate consultation.

On January 27th, 2017 the consultation matter was sent back to the Minister for a decision, which was released today.

The project has been in the works for 12 years, with the company wanting to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out underground salt deposits to create caverns east of Alton that will eventually store natural gas.

The company says the leftover brine solution will be pumped into the river, twice a day at high tide, over a two- to three-year period.

Alton Gas says it has scientific studies showing the brine will not hurt the environment, but Indigenous protesters and their allies say aquatic life will be put at risk.

The protesters had set up a permanent protest camp near the Shubenacadie River, but a recent Nova Scotia Supreme Court order laid out a small patch of land where Aboriginal and other protesters would be permitted.

The Canadan Press reported in February that the federal government was stepping in, with Environment and Climate Change Canada saying the proposed regulations for the Alton Gas project will be aimed at managing potential threats to fish, fish habitat, and human health.

The federal department said the proposed regulations under the Fisheries Act are due later this year and will establish "conditions on any brine releases."

Last month, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approved a construction extension after the previous approval ran out last September.

(With files from The Canadian Press)