Where is Alton Gas’s greed induced impact assessment? How long before the company gets impatient and triples their dumping into the river to speed up their road to profits?
Will frac’d gas be stored in the Alton Gas storage caverns?
Science of trouble at the Alton Gas project site, The company points to years of study to bolster its argument that the Alton Gas project is not harmful to the Shubenacadie River system or the environment. A longtime weir fisherman counters that the science from those studies is flawed and incomplete by Francis Campbell, September 19, 2016, Local Xpress
FORT ELLIS, Colchester County — Controversy continues to bubble quietly along the shore of the Shubenacadie River estuary.
“I’m here to stop Alton Gas,” an understated but defiant Michelle Paul said late Friday afternoon as she and her young daughter busied themselves at the Mi’kmaq truck house set up by the river near Fort Ellis.
“I know it can be done, I know the power of the people when they come together in solidarity for a good cause and what better cause than to protect the water.”
The company is Alton Natural Gas Storage LP, a subsidiary of AltaGas, and the drawn-out plan is to build natural gas storage caverns deep underground at Brentwood Road, near Alton. To do that, the company will gradually release 1.3 million cubic metres of salt into the river system over a three-year period. The process would take nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the estuary and propel it through a 12-kilometre underground pipeline cavern site. There, the water would be pumped about 1,000 metres underground to flush out salt beds to create three initial gas storage caverns, each about the size of an average office building.
The dissolved salt would then be pumped back to the estuary site and into a newly created mixing channel before being gradually released into the river system at about 1,400 cubic metres of salt in each 10- to 11-hour ebb tide cycle, a cycle that will take the released brine down the tidal river to the ocean.
The company has received all the necessary environmental and industrial approvals for the construction work being done at the river site but the Mi’kmaq community, residents and fishermen’s associations say the project will kill or adversely affect the fish and organisms that populate the river.
“There have been assertions that the science is inadequate,” Alton spokeswoman Lori MacLean said of the studies that have been used to back up the project. “If you look at the level of the study that’s taken place, in particular over the last nine years, it’s just enormous in terms of understanding the river and the inhabitants of the river, the fish.”
Available to the public, that information covers the species of fish that can be found in the Shubenacadie River system and their size, feeding habits, spawning and post-spawning practices, migration and most importantly, salinity tolerances. The fish studied include the endangered Atlantic salmon, striped bass, eel, tomcod, gaspereau, blueback herring, shad, sturgeon, trout, flounder, rainbow smelt, catfish and perch.
The Alton website also addresses the brining plan, saying that the diluted brine to be released into the river will be within the range of salinities normally experienced in the river and that all organisms that live in the tidal river system are accustomed to quick changes in salinity.
The company also points to a 2015 independent third-party study conducted by Conestoga Rovers and Associates, a company that was retained by the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative on behalf of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. The independent study was launched in response to complaints by the Mi’kmaq community that they were not consulted properly on the project.
Representatives from the Mi’kmaq community, the company and the federal and provincial governments met to discuss the independent study findings and the company’s monitoring plan was subsequently upgraded to include expanding shut-down periods during striped bass spawning from two weeks to 24 days, more frequent sampling when brining begins and an increased focus on intake and outfall sampling.
But longtime weir fisherman Darren Porter isn’t buying what the company and third-party science is selling.
“The fundamental problem is that science worries more about how they record data than they do about the data they are recording,” said Porter, who lives and fishes out of Bramber, Hants County. He was asked by the Sipekne’katik Band, located primarily in Indian Brook, to lend his fishing and species expertise to their project objections.
“These companies have protocols they are given when they come in. DFO says you must to this, you must study this species and they hire students and these students are trained to record data that they receive, whether that data is zero (fish) or whether that data is 100, it makes no difference. With First Nations and fishermen, we actually care more about the data they find than how they recorded it.”
Porter points to the tomcod species as an example.
“I think they caught four and they studied them two months after they should have been studying them, the spawning period. That doesn’t make us happy because we know there are a lot more than four. In my weir alone this year there were more 200,000 tommycod caught and sold. How can they only catch four?”
Porter said tomcod wasn’t particularly important to the company science.
“To actually only catch four of that species and actually look for the spawning period at the wrong time of year, that is very frustrating. It’s not accurate science to us. To them, they looked, they didn’t find any so it is adequate for them. They checked their box off. Checking boxes off isn’t sufficient in our minds.” [Intentionally inaccurate science? Industry and Canadian federal and provincial governments are experts at that]
The company had been given permission to breach the dike adjacent to the river to create a channel to connect the river and to its holding and brining ponds. That channel now has created a small island in the river.
“They are going to be dumping brine full-strength behind that island,” Porter said. “They call it a mixing channel, we call it the river because it is the river. An eel comes up the river, which is very violent when the tide comes in, so it sticks to the edges, the calmer water. When they follow the edge up coming from the Minas Basin, they don’t have a sign that says now you have to turn away from the channel and go up the river. They are going to follow that edge right into the mixing channel and the full-strength brining.”
The Mi’kmaq have set eel traps in the channel and Porter said the ultimate test will be to ascertain if the brining process kills any eels caught in the traps. He expects the company to argue that the trap test is not natural, that the eels wouldn’t normally be in traps and that it is not the same as the free flow of river water.
“They just told all the people of Nova scotia and the world that this is a match with the river salinity, so what should it matter if the eels are in traps or not. They are telling the people that they are matching the salinity but they are not. They’ve misled the Nova Scotia people.”
Porter said companies always tout social licence, that they have the approval of the local community and other stakeholders to proceed with a project.
“It is a fact that they (Alton) don’ have it. The politicians are no longer looking after people, they are looking after industry. Who is being represented in Nova Scotia? Is it the people or is it Alton?”
While the Sipekne’katik District conservation group hopes to be joined by a marine biologist and environmental experts to do some immediate conservation work at the river site, project detractors have threatened to occupy the site and make it difficult for the company to do its work. Police have been called more than once in the past several weeks when brining protesters have gathered near what Alton considers its work site.
“We’re hoping that we can sway them (government) and get those permits cancelled,” Paul said. “None of us want to see that salt going into the water. Once it does happen we know that the damage will be done and then it will be escalated to a different kind of dispute. We’re looking at preventative measures now.”
MacLean said the schedule to begin the brining process hasn’t been finalized yet and that the company wouldn’t comment on potential pushback against any protests planned for when brining commences.
“We are not going to speculate on what would happen or could happen in the future but what I would say is that Alton would welcome Mi’kmaq participation in the environmental monitoring.”
Motioning to her daughter, Paul, 40, said, “I want to hopefully be a grandmother some day and I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that we did everything we could to stop further damage to the water.” [Emphasis added]
Sipekne’katik Chief says Alton Gas will take legal action if eel traps remain on project site by Maureen Googoo, September 18, 2016, kukuwes.com
The Chief of the Sipekne’katik Band in Nova Scotia says company executives with the Alton Gas Natural Storage Project have threatened legal action against the band and the protesters if the eel traps placed in the mixing channel aren’t removed by Monday.
“If the traps and everything are still there, they’re going to take anyone that’s involved to court,” Chief Rufus Copage said in an interview on Saturday.
Chief Copage said company officials threatened legal action during a meeting with him, the band’s lawyer and the Director of Operations on Sept. 12. He explained the company’s executives called for the meeting because they claimed security guards at the site received a death threat from one of the protesters at the project site.
According to Chief Copage, a company official told him that someone with a car pulled into the gated main entrance of the project site and told the security guards that snipers were in nearby woods ready to shoot at them. According to the same official, the security guards were only able to get a partial license plate from the car, Copage said.
“And because of that, Alton Gas (is) basically saying that they’re going to play hardball,” Chief Copage said.
The Mi’kmaw leader says he questions the validity of the death threat accusation from company officials.
“Every time you drive by there, you have four or five people out there in front of that trailer,” Chief Copage said. “How can somebody drive in the yard, make death threats to the security people and then drive back out and you haven’t got a license plate number or you haven’t got a description of who did it?” he asked.
Chief Copage also said that Alton representatives have backed out of attending a community meeting in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. on Sept. 19.
“What they said (is) they don’t want to attend the meeting on the 19th because they feel that it was going to turn into kind of a circus,” Chief Copage said.
Approximately 30 people made up of Mi’kmaw people from across the Maritimes, local residents and activists have been gathering at the fence next to the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site on a daily basis since the beginning of September. They’re protesting the Nova Scotia’s government’s decision in January to approve the company’s plan to construct underground salt caverns using water from the Shubenacadie River.
Alton Natural Gas Storage LP, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas, plans to use the water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out the underground salt in order to create to storage caverns. The river water mixed with the salt, called brine, would then be diluted and placed in storage ponds before being released back into the river.
On Sept. 11, several members of the group used a boat to reach a tiny island created by the company to divert a portion of the river to create a mixing channel. They began to construct a teepee on the island and placed several eel traps in the water around the island, including the mixing channel.
Chief Copage explained the company officials want him to intervene and instruct the group to take the traps out of the water due to liability issues. In return, the officials told him they would hold off on releasing the brine into the Shubenacadie River until the band’s appeal against the provincial government’s decision to approve the project in Nova Scotia Supreme Court has concluded.
“This all depends if the people down there were to disperse,” he said. [How fast after which would Alton Gas break their promise?]
Chief Copage said he explained to the company that while the band is not directly involved in protest, chief and council support Sipekne’katik band members exercising their treaty right to fish along the river.
“The grassroots people, the band members, if they want to go down to the river, as a band, we have no say over them. They have the right to do what they want,” Chief Copage said.
However, Chief Copage said the company is disputing the band’s stand that it isn’t involved with the protest because two band councillors, Cheryl Maloney and Keith Julian, have joined the group along the riverbank in Fort Ellis, N.S.
“We’re trying to take a stand and not be involved but the fact that we have councillors involved down there, they’re trying to, they may name the band in court,” Chief Copage said.
Cheryl Maloney, who is also the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, disagrees with the company’s opinion on her involvement with the protest as a band councillor.
“Chiefs and councils are allowed to provide moral support for these activities,” Maloney said. “Everything we’re doing is legal,” she added.
“We’re allowed to fish, we’re allowed to pray. We’re allowed to do science and conservation. We’re allowed to gather at the truckhouse,” Maloney said.
“Nobody in the group is interested in negotiating the removal of the traps,” she said. “Our traps are our anchor for our constitutional rights and it triggers a higher constitutional duty by them being there.”
“The traps are staying in the mixing channel,” Maloney said.
Meanwhile, Maloney said that she would step down from band council if the company starts to release the brine into the Shubenacadie River.
“If it comes to a sit in at the site, I would step down and join the resistance camp. I wouldn’t let them do it alone,” Maloney said.
“They’re elders. It’s like me turning my back on the elders and saying, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t cross the line,’” Maloney explained. “I’ll go wherever the elders direct me.”
Kukukwes.com contacted a spokeswomen with the Alton Natural Gas Storage via email for a response to Chief Copage’s comments about the removal of the eel traps and concerns about the alleged death threat against security guards at the site.
“The Alton Natural Gas Storage Project is an active construction site. Access to that site is restricted for public safety reasons, including the island and the mixing channel,” spokeswoman Lori MacLean wrote in the email reply.
“Following activity by some individuals at the site, Alton remains in dialogue with law enforcement representatives and others,” she wrote. [Emphasis added]
Alton Gas detractors take a stand on small Shubenacadie River island, People from the Mi’kmaq community and other Shubenacadie River stakeholders who oppose the Alton Gas project gathered Sunday to set up a teepee, a flag and eel traps on and near a small island created when the company breached the dike at its work site by Francis Campbell, September 11, 2016, Local Xpress
FORT ELLIS, Colchester County — There was nobody voted off the island Sunday in the fight that the Mi’kmaq community and others say is essential for the survival of the Shubenacadie River system.
Dozens of Mi’kmaq from the Sipeken’katik and Millbrook bands joined other river stakeholders Sunday morning to make their case against Alton Natural Gas Storage LP’s plan to dump salt into the Shubenacadie River estuary.
“Today, we started operation Treaty Island,” Cheryl Maloney, a Sipekne’katik band councillor, said. “A while back they moved our flag from the post over there. They removed the flag and when our elder went to put it back, they threatened him with arrest.”
The elder, Joe Francis, said later in the evening that the group had put the flag and the teepee up on the island, the island that was created when the company legally breached the longstanding dike to form a channel for a free flow between its holding and brining ponds and the river.
“The police were there but they couldn’t do anything,” said Francis, adding that his group put some eel traps in the water adjacent to the newly formed island.
“There is no bad intent, there is no wrongdoing here,” Maloney said. “We are stewards of this land and we take it seriously. We’re not going to abandon that job, that duty and obligation. It’s a sacred obligation.”
The company, a subsidiary of AltaGas, plans to gradually release 1.3 million cubic metres of salt into the river system over a three-year period and it is likely to begin the brining process in the near future. The process would have Alton take nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the estuary and propel it through a 12-kilometre underground pipeline to the Brentwood Road cavern site, near Alton. There, the water would be pumped about 1,000 metres underground to flush out salt beds to create three initial gas storage caverns that would each be about the size of an average office building.
The dissolved salt would then be pumped back to the estuary site to be stored in a brine holding pond until its gradual release into the river system at about 1,400 cubic metres of salt in each 10- to 11-hour ebb tide cycle, a cycle that will take the released brine down the tidal river to the ocean.
Alton Gas, which has received all the necessary environmental and industrial approvals for the construction work it is undertaking, had its own take on weekend events.
“Over the weekend, a group of individuals gathered at the river site,” a company statement said. “We respect the right of individuals to express their views safely and peacefully. However, the Alton river site is an active work site with construction hazards. Access to the site is restricted for public safety reasons.
“Some individuals entered the work site, including an island adjacent to the mixing channel for Alton. As a result, law enforcement has been contacted.”
But Francis said the police didn’t come to the island and didn’t speak to him, although they engaged others in the group in conversation.
“There were seven police cars, but that was on the construction site,” he said.
Lori MacLean, a company spokeswoman, said the island is part of the company work site.
Maloney and her group amassed at the Treaty Truck House, recently constructed on the bank of the river adjacent to the company’s fenced-off construction site.
“We are going to set up our signs declaring it as a conservation area with protected treaty fishing and hunting grounds,” Maloney said of the island.
The group was to be joined by area fishermen. As the week progresses, Maloney said the focus will shift to conservation science work. The Sipekne’katik District conservation group will be joined by a marine biologist and several environmental experts.
“I’ll be in waders next week, doing conservation work,” Maloney said. “This is not where I want to be in September. I want to be out picking apples with my grandchildren. But we have to be here.”
The company statement says that its approvals were the outcome of “environmental assessment of the project, over eight years of scientific monitoring of the tidal Shubenacadie River, as well as independent third-party science review that concluded that the project is unlikely to cause any significant adverse environmental effects.”
Maloney scoffs at the company science, saying it was conducted by one researcher and two student assistants who were not able to collect data from farther down in the basin because of the terrain, the tide and other complexities.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials visited the site last week and told the project detractors that there is nothing that the minister can or should do at this late stage to stop the project from going forward. But Maloney said there are a number of provisions linked to the Species at Risk Act that compel the government to reassess the project.
“Under Prime Minister Harper, Canada just denied any climate change but the country is doing some catching up. I sent a strong message to Prime Minister Trudeau that you better slow down this project until your climate change researchers and your climate change commitments catch up or they’ll all be meaningless.”
In January, the provincial Environment Department granted Alton a permit to do work along the river that included breaching of the dike and the construction of a brining pond and a holding pond. Six groups, including the Sipekne’katik Band, appealed the permit but all six were dismissed by Environment Minister Margaret Miller.
The band appealed her decision and the case was to be heard in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in mid-August until the court decided to move the hearing to November. That means the company can begin the brining operation long before the hearing and the band and others claim that irreparable damage will be inflicted on the river system and the fish habitat before the case is decided.
“Construction is ongoing at Alton and a date for the start of brining has not yet been determined,” MacLean said Sunday.
Miller said recently that she can’t comment on the issue while the case is before the court. [Emphasis added]
From the Alton Gas Website:
To help meet the growing demand for natural gas in Nova Scotia, Alton Natural Gas Storage is building an underground natural gas storage facility and associated pipelines near Alton, Nova Scotia. The facility is located in the Stewiacke Salt Formation, approximately 60 kilometres from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The location of Alton Natural Gas Storage is ideal because of the presence of the salt formation, the proximity of a water source for solution mining, and the nearby Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline natural gas pipeline.
Alton Natural Gas Storage will be the only natural gas storage facility in Atlantic Canada and the only storage facility connected to the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline. It will help provide Nova Scotians with secure, affordable and reliable natural gas year-round.