KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The proposed gas pipeline for the Alton Gas storage project is set to cross the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area, although naturalists are strongly opposed.
Despite the constant controversy swirling around the Alton Gas Storage project for the last two years, the proposed gas pipeline to the project has received almost no attention.
The 2007 environmental assessment done for Alton Gas identified a “preferred route” for the gas pipeline that headed straight south from the salt cavern site in Brentwood to cross the Stewiacke River, and travel a total of twenty kilometres to connect with the Maritime and Northeast gas pipeline.
The Alton Gas project went onto the shelf for several years. It resurfaced with the present owners, AltaGas of Calgary. The new proponents in 2012 submitted a separate environmental assessment for the pipeline. Most of that previously identified preferred route had recently been designated as “candidate” wilderness areas by the NDP government.
There is a considerable amount of survey and assessment work that must be submitted for a proposed pipeline. Alton Gas made the assumption that they would be “grandfathered” for the wilderness area since they had chosen the routing before the creation of the Stewiacke River and Saint Andrews River wilderness areas. They chose not to explore either of the alternative routes identified in the 2007 environmental assessment.
Early concessions from the NDP government
A great deal was already conceded to Alton Gas over the protected wilderness areas by the NDP government in 2013.
A very big step was taken in dropping from the Saint Andrews River Wilderness Area (SARWA) the lands proposed for protection that Alton Gas wanted the pipeline to pass through. At the time of the gas pipeline environmental assessment (EA) approval in May 2013, the SARWA still had the larger boundaries including the pipeline route.
“Coincidentally,” the EA Ministerial approval mentions only the pipeline passing through the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area. It does not mention the Saint Andrews River Wilderness Area, and the lands needed for the gas pipeline were later quietly dropped from that wilderness area.
The NDP government approved the route Alton Gas wanted, with the condition that the company had to provide unspecified “compensations” for compromising the integrity of the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area.
At the time the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society strenuously objected to allowing a pipeline to pass through an important wilderness area- pointing out that there were alternate routes available.
No comment and no comment from the current Liberal government
Alton Gas needs to begin clearing for construction of the gas pipeline soon if that part of the project is to be completed by the time the first storage cavern is projected to be ready for filling with natural gas.
The company has a registered lobbyist working on delivering approvals needed by the project, and there has been no public acknowledgment that the question marks have been resolved around the pipeline passing through the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area.
Despite repeated contact over several days the Department of Environment has not provided any explanation of the process around determining what kind of “compensation” would be required of Alton Gas in return for full approval to run the gas pipeline through the wilderness area.
Chris Miller of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was asked if he could shed any light on the workings of determining the compensation required of Alton Gas. He reiterated that “The pipeline should not run through the protected area. We should avoid disturbance of the protected area in the first place, rather than allow the disturbance and then require mitigation and compensation measures.”
Miller drew attention to the very high conservation values of the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area including wood turtle habitat and the long corridor of large trees along the Stewiacke River. The SRWA is a very nutrient rich environment, a landscape poorly represented among Nova Scotia’s designated wilderness areas; and is needed to rectify the serious lack of protected areas in the highly fragmented landscape of central Nova Scotia.
Miller voiced concerns that the environmental assessment conditions set no parameters about type or amount of compensation that should be required of Alton Gas. He observed also that the four year deadline set by the government for developing a compensation plan expires in several months, without the government seeking input from his organization.
The Environment Department was asked to comment on the apparent lack of inclusion of a major and ongoing stakeholder in the creation of the Stewiacke River Wilderness Area. Again, there has been no reply.