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Alton Gas project should be stopped, report from opponents says

Dale Andrew Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith meet with supporters outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Monday.
Dale Andrew Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith meet with supporters outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court in March. - Francis Campbell

Dale Andrew Poulette says he has a simple objective in completing and distributing a 10-page report on the proposed Alton Gas project in Colchester County.

“I’m hoping Nova Scotia Environment does their damn job and suspend the industrial approval,” Poulette said. 

The report, compiled by Poulette and his partner, Rachael Greenland-Smith, with assistance from Doug Neil, is subtitled The Fight to save the Shubenacadie River.

The report starts with a sentence saying the project is not safe for the environment.

“The brine they intend to release into the Shubenacadie River is acutely toxic to life,” Poulette and Greenland-Smith, Alton Gas opponents and self-described water protectors, assert. “On Feb. 25, 2019, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a notice of intent, which confirms that the brine Alton Gas plans to release into the river is a deleterious substance according to the Fisheries Act, and prohibited. The project as currently planned is against the law. Both the province of Nova Scotia and Alton Gas have maintained that this project is safe for the environment when it clearly is not.”

The controversial project, in the works for about a dozen years, began with Alton Gas, a subsidiary of AltaGas, acquiring a 16-hectare Riverside Road property near Fort Ellis at the Shubenacadie River estuary. The company also acquired an 80-hectare property 12 kilometres away near a residential area on Brentwood Road.

Final Executive Summary - T... by Chronicle Herald on Scribd

The solution mining project is designed to draw nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the river estuary and propel it by pipeline to a cavern site off Brentwood Road, near Alton.

There, the water will be pumped nearly 1,000 metres underground to flush out salt to create two caverns with a combined storage capacity of about four billion cubic feet of natural gas. The brine created by the salt dissolution will then be pumped back to a mixing pond at the estuary before being released into the river system, a gradual discharge of 1.3 million cubic metres of salt over a two- to three-year period.

Poulette and Greenland-Smith report that there has been six years of steady public opposition to the project.

“The community is fighting tooth and nail to protect treaty rights, fish and fish habitat, the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon, and the Shubenacadie River itself. The Alton Gas project poses a threat to all of these things.

“Members of the community of Brentwood have raised serious concerns over the prospect of living on top of the gas caverns and near the above-ground gas piping facilities.”

The report states that community members, environmentalists and Mi’kmaq agree that projects like Alton Gas promote further fossil fuel exploration, extraction and development, exacerbating the climate crisis. 

The report, though, focuses on the legality and harm of the planned brine release.

“We are asking the province of Nova Scotia to suspend all permits because they were granted based on false premises. We are asking for a public inquiry and a review of the actions taken with regard to this project.”

Company spokeswoman Lori MacLean said Alton Gas operates on the principles of respecting the land, sharing the benefits and nurturing long-term relationships.

“Our starting point for all our activity is clear,” MacLean said. “No harm can come to the Shubenacadie River estuary or the fishery there from Alton construction and operations.

MacLean said monitoring by expert Dalhousie University researchers will be ongoing at the estuary, building on more than a decade of data already collected. 

Poulette and  Greenland-Smith were brought before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court  in March and ordered to move their protest away from the front gate of the Alton Gas riverside site.

Poulette had been camped out at or near Alton’s property for months on end, standing guard by the Shubenacadie River estuary against a project that he and others say will pollute the tidal river.

In April, three Mi’kmaq grassroots grandmothers who had been staying at the camp by the company gate were arrested for contempt of the March injunction order. The straw-bale hut built by protesters 18 months earlier was bulldozed by the company.

The federal departments of Environment and Fisheries and the provincial departments of Environment and Natural Resource raised concerns in the wake of the early 2007 environmental assessment application about Alton Gas’s plans and the impacts on the environment, the Poulette report says. 

The environment minister of the day rejected the initial 2007 application, requesting additional information.

Alton Gas applied again the same year and the project gained approval, “but the same concerns about the deposition of deleterious substances remain,” Poulette and Greenland-Smith say in the report. 

“Alton Gas should have been aware the project would be out of compliance but failed to change their plan. Nova Scotia Environment was aware that the brine discharge required (federal environment department) oversight and scrutiny.”

MacLean said the company is  working on regulatory and construction planning for the project. 

“The start date for solution mining, also referred to as ‘brining,’  is being determined,” she said. 

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