Published April 23, 2015 - 7:10pm
Last Updated April 23, 2015 - 8:05pm
The Alton Natural Gas Storage project will remain in neutral while a three-month review of scientific data is completed.
“Once that (review) has been provided, we will certainly continue to have discussions with the chiefs, the native community and the KMK (the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative) regarding the project proceeding,” Energy Minister Michel Samson said Thursday.
The request for proposals by the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative for an independent study of the scientific data related to the Colchester County project closed April 17 and a consultant is expected to be identified soon.
“We’re hoping the review is completed fairly quickly,” he said.
Alton Natural Gas Storage, a subsidiary of AltaGas, plans to draw water from the Shubenacadie River estuary near Fort Ellis and pump it 12 kilometres to a storage site in Alton. There, the water is to be sent down drilled wells to flush out 1.3 million cubic metres of salt from the underground beds to initially create three engineered gas storage caverns to complete the $130-million first phase of the project.
The salt brine is to be pumped back to the estuary and released into the river.
The province issued a partial work stoppage on the project in late October after the Mi’kmaq community complained that it had not been properly consulted about how treaty and fishing rights would be affected.
“We don’t want anything to happen to our waterways,” Chief Sidney Peters, co-chairman of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, said at the time about concerns that the brine release could damage marine life in the Shubenacadie River system.
Crystal Dorey, spokeswoman for the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, said it’s not clear when the 90-day study will proceed but insisted that the study will lead to further consultation between government, the native leaders and company representatives.
“The study won’t be the end of consultations,” Dorey said.
Samson said the study is intended to provide the Mi’kmaq community and its chiefs with assurance that the scientific data collected is accurate and that the project adheres to all environmental concerns
“Part of the negotiation process is a sign of a good faith in insuring that there is a confidence that these numbers are not just something the company has put forward, but they can be looked at by a third party to ensure independent verification of the data and that will assist in our negotiations,” Samson said. “We want to ensure that there is proper consultation taking place.”
The province made it clear earlier this year that until that review is completed and approved by the assembly of chiefs, the province won’t issue the company further permits required to finish the river site part of the project.
“Further discussions between the company, Alta Gas, government, ministers and the Mi’kmaq are taking place,” a government spokeswoman said Thursday. “As consultation continues with the Mi’kmaq, all approvals for project work are on hold.”
In the meantime, Heritage Gas Ltd., was told by the provincial Utility and Review Board on Wednesday that its use of the cavern storage facility has been pushed back a year to April 1, 2019, because of a missed deadline with the regulator.
Delays are music to the ears of Valerie Hawks, who owns a home and businesses along with her husband, Colin, in Brentwood, less than half a kilometre from the cavern site in Alton.
The Hawks claim the project depreciates their property values and quality of life. They are working on a petition to try to amend the provincial Underground Hydrocarbons Storage Act and its codes to significantly increase the required 200-metre setback from their homes to an underground gas storage reservoir.
With Mike Gorman, provincial reporter
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