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Alton Gas, Canada


Description

Mi’kmaq communities and non-Indigenous allies have been actively opposing the completion of the Alton Gas project near Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. Alton Gas proposed to create four salt caverns in order to store natural gas underground, with the intention to build up to 15 more (they've since dropped two of the caverns).

The project is designed to draw nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the Shubenacadie River estuary and push it through a 12-kilometre underground pipeline to the cavern site. There, the water will be pumped underground to flush out salt to create the caverns. The brine created by the salt dissolution will then be pumped back to the estuary for release into the river system (Campbell, 2019)

Once at peak brine generation, an estimated 10,000 cubic metres of brine will be released into the river each day until all caverns have been hollowed out (Hubley, 2016). The storage caverns are needed by AltaGas subsidiary Heritage Gas, which sells natural gas in the Halifax area and to utility Nova Scotia Power, which generates 22 per cent of its electricity from natural gas. Heritage Gas wants to stockpile its product during the colder months to protect its customers from price shocks when demand spikes.

Alton Gas claims of savings for natural gas customers has always been disputed (Summers, 2016). Each of the caverns are expected to be about 80 metres high by 50 metres wide. The caverns would be linked to the nearby Maritimes and Northeast natural gas pipeline, about 60 kilometres north of Halifax (Macdonald, 2018).

In the fall of 2014, construction started on a brine discharge pipeline despite the fact that the development had not yet received full government approval, and “it was met with swift protest. A camp was soon erected that was largely occupied by local Mi’kmaw protesters. For many, this was not only the first time hearing of the Alton Gas project, but also their first realization that components of their elected band leadership had known of the project for years” (Howe, 2016).

“The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative (KMKNO), the organization which claims consulting authority for 12 of the province’s 13 Mi’kmaw communities, had been aware of the project and engaged in consultations with the Nova Scotia government and Alton Gas since 2006. But in 2014, during the protests, the KMKNO publicly asserted that Alton Gas and the province had not yet fulfilled their consultative requirements in terms of compensation plans and demanded the project cease until such obligations were met” (Howe, 2016)

“The Alton Gas project has received opposition from the very beginning, particularly from local First Nations Bands Sipekne’katik and Millbrook but also non-Indigenous community members. Actions included highway blockades, development site encampment and educational events, letter writing campaigns and court appeals

In April 2016, Sipekne’katik and Millbrook First Nations, the Shubenacadie River Commercial Fishermen’s Association, The Council of Canadians and the Ecology Action Centre announced that they were each submitting Appeals to the provincial government “on grounds that Alton Gas provided inadequate research, has not considered impacts on local fish populations and groundwater sources and that the province has not fulfilled its duty to meaningfully consult with First Nations communities” (Hubley, 2016).

The Sipekne’katik, Millbrook and broader Mi’kmaq mobilized to assert their treaty rights to food gathering and to defend “Water as Life” (Flier). In September 2016, the Mi’kmaw water protectors began watching Alton development site from a Treaty Truck House that they built along the banks of the Shubenacadie. The Treaty Truck House was built as a place from which to resist the project but it also serves to evoke the 1752 Treaty of Friendship and Peace which promised hunting, fishing, and trading rights in exchange for peace (Lewis, n.d.). A truckhouse is a trading post set up to facilitate trade between Mi’kmaq and their trading partners and right to have a truck house is explicitly laid out in the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty (Treaty Truck House Against Alton Gas, n.d.).

Mi'kmaw water protectors spent all winter in the truck house. And then on May 23, 2017, they set up a Treaty Camp along the entrance to the Alton Gas work site, effective blocking the company from working on the project. Since that time, they have built a strawbale house, a greenhouse, gardens, a chicken coup and other infrastructure at the Alton site, where Mi'kmaw water protectors live year-round.

Resistance to the project is based on concern over ecological impacts including harm to fish, other wildlife and the river ecosystem. Indeed it is “against federal regulations in the federal Fisheries Act to deposit brine into a body of water where fish frequent” (Greenland-Smith & Poulette, 2019). There is also concern about increased greenhouse gas emissions from the natural gas production contributing to climate change (Hubley, 2016).

The safety of the natural gas storage is also a major concern. “Salt cavern gas storage has a 40% failure rate globally and a 65% failure rate in the U.S and pose a serious threat to groundwater” (Hubley, 2016). “These failures have lead to massive explosions that can kill or injure workers and locals, as well as to the uncontrollable release of extremely toxic chemicals into the air, soils and waters of local environments and communities, forcing locals out of their homes while threatening their health” (Hubley, 2016)

“The resistance is also based on the project violating of Treaty rights and title of Mi’kmaq. Alton Gas has also not acquired consent from the Mi’kmaq Nation and their design knowingly violates the Treaty Rights of Mi’kmaq” (Greenland-Smith & Poulette, 2019), including their right to fish.

Despite Alton's assertion that they have been consulting the Sipekne'katik First Nation since 2006, many band members say they did not hear of the project until Alton Gas started construction in 2014. “Residents were given little-to-no notice of any public meetings for hearing their concerns about the project, before it went ahead” (Hubley, 2016).

“The government has indicated it has fulfilled its duty to meaningfully consult with First Nations about the project, in part because it acquired the approval of the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative (KMKNO). However, both Sipekne’katik and Millbrook Nations have been polarized from the KMKNO over this issue, because they feel there has been no consultation. Despite their official appeals to halt the project until proper consultation has been followed through, the provincial government has given Alton Gas a green light (Hubley, 2016).

Alton Gas says that plan has been put on hold because of “project and regulatory planning.” (Macdonald, 2018). The company has recently asked the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to extend its cavern construction permit to Sept. 1, 2023 (Cooke, 2018). Alton Gas has already drilled three wells at the Brentwood Road site and plans additional well drilling. The in- service date for cavern storage has been moved to 2022, a date Alton says reflects the time needed to complete the caverns (Campbell, 2019).

Time Line:

1752: the Treaty of Friendship and Peace was signed, promising hunting, fishing, and trading rights in exchange for peace. It also provided for a ‘Truck house’ (Lewis, n.d.)

2006: Communications began between The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative (KMKNO), Nova Scotia government and Alton Gas. This did not include proper consultation process.

Fall 2014: Construction started on a brine discharge pipeline next to the Shubenacadie River (Hubley, 2016).

Sept 2014: KMKNO publicly asserted that Alton Gas and the province had not yet fulfilled their consultative requirements and demanded the project cease until such obligations were met.

January 2016: The province declared the consultations complete and gave Alton the permits to continue its work (Hubley, 2016).

February 2016: The Sipekne’katik band filed an appeal with Nova Scotia’s environment minister because of a perceived insufficiency in consultation with the band (Howe, 2016). At least eight others groups submit appeals to stop development on the brine release site (Hubley, 2016).

March 2016: The project faces more opposition than ever (Hubley, 2016).

September 2016: The Mi’kmaw water protectors begin watching Alton from a Truck House that they built along the banks of the Shubenacadie, near the Alton Gas brine dumping site.

January 2017: Sipekne’katik achieve a partial court victory in overturning the Provinces rejection of their appeal (filed in February). The provincial Supreme Court judge quashed the province’s rejection of the band’s appeal of the plan in January, saying the band was denied procedural fairness and ruled the province wrongly refused the band’s request to review and respond to reports on the project (Candian Press, 2017).

May 2017: Treaty camp was built at the entrance to Alton’s worksite, to prevent Alton Gas from working on the project.

Sept 2017: Mi’kmaq band awarded $75,000 in court costs.

Fall 2017: Water protectors at Treaty camp (and allies) began building a strawbale house at the front gate with the intention to winter at the camp.

Jan 2019: There are already three wells drilled at the Brentwood Road site, near Alton and Stewiacke, and Alton Gas plans additional well drilling (Campbell 2019). The in-service date for cavern storage has been moved to 2022 (Campbell, 2019).

Basic Data

NameAlton Gas, Canada
CountryCanada
ProvinceNova Scotia
SiteAlton, southern Colchester County
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Other
Specific CommoditiesNatural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsAlton Gas proposed to create two salt caverns in order to store natural gas underground, with the intention to build up to 15 more. The project is designed to draw nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the Shubenacadie River estuary and push it through a 12-kilometre underground pipeline to the cavern site. There, the water will be pumped underground to flush out salt to create the caverns. The brine created by the salt dissolution will then be pumped back to the estuary for release into the river system (Campbell, 2019)

Once at peak brine generation, an estimated 10,000 cubic metres of brine will be released into the river each day for up to 10 years or until all caverns have been hollowed out (Hubley, 2016). The storage caverns are needed by AltaGas subsidiary Heritage Gas, which sells natural gas in the Halifax area and to utility Nova Scotia Power, which generates 22 per cent of its electricity from natural gas. Heritage Gas wants to stockpile its product during the colder months to protect its customers from price shocks when demand spikes. Each of the caverns are expected to be about 80 metres high by 50 metres wide. The caverns would be linked to the nearby Maritimes and Northeast natural gas pipeline, about 60 kilometres north of Halifax (Macdonald, 2018).
Level of Investment (in USD)100,000,000.00 (CAD)
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population 1,906 (Population of the town of Alton) to 36,091 (Population of Colchester County)
Start Date10/10/2016
Company Names or State Enterprises Heritage Gas from Canada - AltaGas subsidiary, Heritage Gas, is interested in caverns for natural gas storage so it can stockpile its product.
AltaGas Ltd from Canada - Proponent Alton Gas is subsidiary of AltaGAs
Relevant government actorsSipekne’katik First Nation

Millbrook First Nation

The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative (KMKNO) (the organization which is the consulting agent for 12 of the province’s 13 Mi’kmaw communities) . Sipekne’katik is not a part of this.

Nova Scotia provincial government

Stewiacke Town Council

Nova Scotia Department of Energy

Nova Scotia Department of Environment

Federal Government

Federal departments of Natural Resources Canada and the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFishers

Council of Canadians https://canadians.org/

Ecology Action Centre https://ecologyaction.ca/

Atlantic chapter of the Sierra Club Foundation https://www.sierraclub.ca/en/atlantic

Nova Scotia Fracking Research and Action Coalition http://www.nofrac.com/

Canadian Youth Climate Coalition http://www.climatenetwork.org/profile/member/canadian-youth-climate-coalition-cyccccjc

Divest Dalhousie

https://www.facebook.com/DivestDal/

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Mi’kmaq Nation
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
They have built a strawbale house, a greenhouse, gardens, a chicken coup and other infrastructure at the Alton site

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesDuring the fall of 2016 Mi’kmaq opponents of the Alton Gas project, supported by non-Indigenous allies, set up a truckhouse along the banks of the Shubenacadie River near the Alton Gas brine dumping site. The right to have a truck house is explicitly laid out in the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty.

During the fall of 2016 Mi’kmaq opponents of the Alton Gas project, supported by non-Indigenous allies, set up a truckhouse along the banks of the Shubenacadie River near the Alton Gas brine dumping site. The right to have a truck house is explicitly laid out in the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty. This has been a cite of mobilization and resistance as well as a physical and symbolic assertion of Mik'maq sovereignty.

Mi'kmaq water protectors spent all winter in the truck house. And then on May 23, 2017, they set up a Treaty Camp along the entrance to the Alton Gas work site, effective blocking the company from working on the project. Since that time, they have built a strawbale house, a greenhouse, gardens, a chicken coup and other infrastructure at the Alton site, where Mi'kmaq water protectors live year round.

This case is a beautiful example of the strategy of "putting the solutions in the pathway of the problem".

Groups resisting the projects have cited Bill111 to argue again the development. It is an act to address environmental racism in Nova Scotia. (Hubely, 2016)
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The project has been significantly delayed and continues to be delayed. Final outcome is yet uncertain. Resistance to the project has created new alliances and networks of mobilization.

The importance, in fact legal duty, to consult First Nations has been underscored and strengthened. New forms of resistance - material and symbolic - have been forged at the Resistance camp.

Sources and Materials

Links

Flier
(Flier) https://treatytruckhouseagainstaltongas.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/2016-treaty-day-flier.pdf

(Greenland-Smith & Poulette, 2019)
https://nsadvocate.org/2019/01/22/psa-respect-water-respect-life-stop-alton-gas/?fbclid=IwAR1m5FZtLjQLIVIX-C0erygXwqAumEkrWxlozt3LuOHM5HOvD1ydl3wk-XA

(stopaltongas, n.d)
https://stopaltongas.wordpress.com/

(Howe, Miles, 2016)
https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/going-against-the-tide-the-fight-against-alton-gas/Content?oid=5221542

(Hubley, Jake, 2016)
https://treatytruckhouseagainstaltongas.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/the-alton-gas-project-an-analysis/?fbclid=IwAR3_8NjOgi0SlfxPGvFOuP-kcttYwD-xy0ERJRXL8-YE4XaUn09lQB-wxAs

(Cooke, 2018)
https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/regional/ellen-page-takes-aim-at-altons-controversial-underground-gas-storage-plan-270815/

(Lewis, R.J., n.d.)
https://treatytruckhouseagainstaltongas.wordpress.com/more-info-on-treaties-truckhouses-and-the-shubenacadie-river/

(Treaty Truck house Against Alton Gas, n.d.)
https://treatytruckhouseagainstaltongas.wordpress.com/about/treaties-and-truck-houses/

(Macdonald, M, 2018)
https://globalnews.ca/news/4770163/alton-gas-delays/

(Candian Press, 2017)
https://globalnews.ca/news/3778389/nova-scotia-mikmaq-alton-gas-court-costs/

(Dorey, 2014)
http://mikmaqrights.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Press-Release_AltonGas_23Sept14.pdf

(Campbell, Francis, 2018)
https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/local/alton-gas-answers-detractors-in-uarb-letter-278050/?fbclid=IwAR0VqRYkNtZt2GZNxK-0YB9xp6J9QnrovvQVDiOQcnIKMQIoLw9QnC-M9ek

(Summers, 2016) "Alton Gas Refuses Public Examination of Consumer Savings Promise". Halifax Media Co-op.
http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/story/alton-gas-refuses-public-examination-consumer-savi/35443

Media Links

Video of Mik'maq resistance to Alton Gas
https://vimeo.com/246159254

Other Documents

Shubenacadie River
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Alton_gas_river.jpg

Treaty Truck House Camp - Strawbale House Image sourced: https://fundrazr.com/b1Il98?ref=tw_84WTga_ab_7oSEq7XAsMH7oSEq7XAsMH
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Alton_gas_strawbale_house.jpg

Alton Gas Figure Figure from open letter "PSA: Respect water, respect life − Stop Alton Gas"



https://nsadvocate.org/2019/01/22/psa-respect-water-respect-life-stop-alton-gas/?fbclid=IwAR3_2wARx50Lwd927QdXEzddRonGOhEYuOfFER8zacxnOJsjoaFnKwRFQ2g
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Alton_Gas_image.jpg

Meta Information

ContributorJen Gobby
Last update12/02/2019

Images

 

Alton Gas Figure

Figure from open letter "PSA: Respect water, respect life − Stop Alton Gas" https://nsadvocate.org/2019/01/22/psa-respect-water-respect-life-stop-alton-gas/?fbclid=IwAR3_2wARx50Lwd927QdXEzddRonGOhEYuOfFER8zacxnOJsjoaFnKwRFQ2g

Shubenacadie River

 

Treaty Truck House Camp - Strawbale House

Image sourced: https://fundrazr.com/b1Il98?ref=tw_84WTga_ab_7oSEq7XAsMH7oSEq7XAsMH