POLITICS

Natives, residents slow traffic on Nova Scotia highway to protest gas project

10/01/2014 11:06 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
STEWIACKE, N.S. - Mi'kmaq protesters and residents of a rural community slowed traffic on a Nova Scotia highway Wednesday in a bid to stop construction of a natural gas storage facility they fear will contaminate local waterways.

Organizer Cheryl Maloney said about 100 people lined Highway 102 near Stewiacke to hand out pamphlets and wave placards as part of a peaceful protest about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

Maloney said First Nation bands want the $100-million project stopped because they say there hasn't been enough consultation with native and non-native residents.

"Nova Scotians just don't know what's happening and people that live right next to where they're plowing and building the brine facilities, they don't even know," she said in a telephone interview from the site of the protest as car horns blared in the background.

"We need an injunction and need people to come out and be able to say, 'We don't want our ecosystem destroyed.' "

Alton Natural Gas Storage, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas (TSX:ALA), wants to store natural gas in three underground salt caverns that will be about 1,000 metres underground.

The company plans to drill into the salt formations and pump in water from the nearby Shubenacadie River to dissolve the salt, with the leftover brine water being pumped back into the river system.

The company's website says drilling for the first cavern started last month.

Alton president David Birkett issued a statement Wednesday saying the company has been in regular contact with Mi'kmaq for the past eight years and it is open to more meetings.

The environmental assessment process required consultation with First Nations, he said, adding that the company met with the chiefs from Millbrook and Indian Brook in 2006, conducted two Mi'kmaq ecological studies in 2006 and 2012, met with the Native Council of Nova Scotia in 2007 and hosted a site tour for Mi'kmaq-owned businesses in 2009.

More recently, the company provided updates at an open house in 2011 and invited the Native Council of Nova Scotia to provide submissions to the environmental assessment process in February 2013. Meetings were also held with the Mi'kmaq in June, August and earlier this month, he said.

"Our company has worked hard to bring the benefits of natural gas storage to Nova Scotians in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner," Birkett said in the statement.

Nova Scotia's Environment Department has said it is continuing to consult with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs on the project.

It added that the company still requires permits from Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment before it can begin using a brine storage pond at its site.

Alton said it also implemented mitigation measures to ensure the project wouldn't affect fish in the rivers, something Maloney said she doesn't trust to protect threatened stocks of striped bass.

Alton says salt caverns have been used to store natural gas in Canada since the 1960s.

The storage facility in Nova Scotia will be used to stabilize the province's supply of natural gas. The gas from the caverns would be linked by pipeline to the nearby Maritimes and Northeast pipeline, which extends from Nova Scotia to the northeastern United States.