Alton Gas approval called a “direct violation” of First Nations rights | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Alton Gas approval called a “direct violation” of First Nations rights

Outrage at the province over controversial natural gas project.

Alton Gas approval called a “direct violation” of First Nations rights
The Sipekne'katik flag waves at the proposed brine storage site.

After what the the Liberal government calls “extensive consultations,” the province announced regulatory approvals earlier today for the Alton Gas storage project.

Not everyone's pumped about it.

Chief Rufus Copage and the Sipekn’katik band decried the announcement, with Copage stating they would be withdrawing from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs over today’s decision. The Assembly, through the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative, endorsed the project.

“My community members are prepared to protect their river,” Chief Rufus Copage told the Herald yesterday. “They’re the ones that are going to be affected by it; it’s not me, it’s not my council, it’s the whole community. And it’s not just the community, it’s all the people all around us.”

The announcement was called a direct violation of the rights of First Nations peoples in a joint-letter issued this afternoon from the East Hants Fracking Opposition Group, the Striped Bass Association, the Subenacadie River Commercial Fishing Association and concerned citizens in Brentwood and Alton.

The letter, addressed to premier Stephen McNeil (also the minister of aboriginal affairs), energy minister Michel Samson and environment minister Margaret Miller, asks the government to suspend further approvals so that First Nations communities can consult their members about the project and demands up-to-date evaluations and cumulative risk assessments for the natural gas storage project.

“The Sipekne'katik and Millbrook First Nations informed Premier McNeil of their plans to hold a referendum on the issue of whether to allow natural gas storage and the dumping of brine waste into the river system. We applaud and support this bold decision by the Sipekne'katik community to demand meaningful community engagement.

“Non-indigenous residents of surrounding communities have also made many efforts to tell regulators that we do not want this dangerous development in our community. We do not believe that the assessment process has sufficiently evaluated the potential and cumulative risks to community health, safety and to the environment of the Alton Gas Salt Cavern storage project. Indigenous and non-indigenous residents of the area have worked together to show our opposition by holding peaceful protests, writing letters, making petitions, calling our government officials and holding community meetings. Today’s decision shows a complete lack of regard for both  communities’ voices on the issue.”

Along with the four signatories, the letter is supported by the Council of Canadians, Ecology Action Centre, the Atlantic chapter of the Sierra Club Foundation, the Nova Scotia Fracking Research and Action Coalition, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and Divest Dalhousie.

Permits for the project were initially delayed in 2014 after complaints were made by Mi’kmaq community members and local fishermen regarding inadequate consultation. The government says it’s now met those criteria through an independent third-party scientific review and the afore-mentioned “extensive aboriginal consultation.”

Michel Samson said in a release that the government “respects that the Shubenacadie River is significant to the Mi'kmaq people....That's why we've concentrated the past 18 months on bringing together representatives from all parties with science experts to identify concerns and solutions and gather further information that could be shared with communities.” 

New monitoring programs for the controversial energy project have been installed, and the company has agreed to extend its annual shutdown during striped bass season (from 14 to 24 days). All of which means Alton Gas is “safe” and “does not threaten the environment,” according to Samson.

The project would store natural gas in three underground caverns near Stewiacke by first flooding and then flushing out salt deposits into storage ponds and the Shubenacadie River.

Underground salt cavern storage is a process some call environmentally unacceptable. Tori Ball, with the Council of Canadians, says there is a 65 percent failure rate for American underground natural gas storage facilities. Those incidents can cause extreme property loss, fires, explosions and residential evacuations. And that’s not even taking into account the potential impacts of all the brine water.

Michel Samson said today the project has the potential to save $17 million each year and ensure natural gas customers’ demands are supplied.

Elsewhere this week, new environment minister Margaret Miller told The Coast that Alton Gas is the biggest environmental challenge facing the province.

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