An Update on the Alton Gas Saga

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Alton Gas has received Industrial Approval to construct a brining facility on unceded Mi’kmaq territory abutting the Shubenacadie River estuary.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation, one of thirteen First Nations in Nova Scotia, asserts aboriginal rights as well as treaty rights over hunting and fishing in Nova Scotia especially in the Shubenacadie River estuary. The Sipekne’katik First Nation and others have long resisted the Alton Gas project.

“We are not protesters. We are water protectors. Our indigenous rights are very unique.”
Madonna Bernard, Mi’kmaq water protector

Of particular concern is that this facility could taint the Shubenacadie River and devastate its marine life. As CBC News has reported, “AltaGas’s planned natural gas storage project will produce brine with salinity levels six times higher than what’s considered harmful to fish.” CBC News viewed documents that local residents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. A 2016 report from Environment Canada’s Atlantic Laboratory for Environmental Testing stated that “For a short period of time, any fish in this mixing zone may be exposed to elevated salinity at levels above those considered safe for marine and estuarine organisms.”

For its part, Alton Gas has stated that its project will not have deleterious effects on the Shubenacadie River estuary.

In April, the RCMP arrested three Mi’kmaq women for violating the terms of an injunction issued by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. This injunction provided that water protectors were to move from the main gate of Alton Gas’ building site. However, it stipulated that they could protest the project in an area selected by Alton Gas which was also on Riverside Road. In response, some refused to be cloistered in a “play pen.”

Next Steps

Michael McDonald, a lawyer from Sipekne’katik First Nation, is representing the three Mi’kmaq water protectors. Their contempt cases have been moved to December 2019. He will file an injunction to bar Alton Gas from carrying on with its construction efforts. What’s more, McDonald is also bringing a constitutional and treaty challenge on behalf of the Sipekne’katik Band.

As McDonald has said, “Our argument is those lands were never ceded or sold by the Mi’kmaq people so Alton Gas has no treaty claim to those lands along the Shubenacadie River.”

“We will argue that my clients acted under Mi’kmaq law and in that case, they would not be guilty of an offence . . . . In their belief, an honest belief, those lands were never ceded or sold by the Mi’kmaq people, so therefore, Alton Gas’s ostensible claim to those lands are false.”
Michael McDonald, Sipekne’katik First Nation lawyer

The Alton Gas project and the continued efforts of Sipekne’katik First Nation and water protectors to contest that project have received extensive media coverage. Notably, on 27 March 2019 water protectors confronted Justin Trudeau on a visit to Halifax. As Mi’kmaw water protector Darlene Gilbert asked, “When are you going to stop poisoning our waters? We are saying take Alton Gas out of our province now. It’s our waterways.” “I hear you on this,” Trudeau said to Gilbert.

But it is also clear that the Trudeau government has heard from AltaGas. The National Observer has reported that AltaGas, of which Alton Gas is a subsidiary, lobbied the Trudeau government extensively in 2018.

As things stand, “Environment and Climate Change Canada is initiating the development of proposed regulations made under section 36(5) of the Fisheries Act to govern the deposit of brine (a solution of salt in water) from natural gas storage cavern development activities at the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site in Nova Scotia.”

You can follow that proposal here.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer law volunteer. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.

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