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Saving the Shubie

Letter to government: Gas cavern opposition widespread and not limited to Mi'kmaq communities

by Miles Howe

Commercial, fishing, conservation and environmental groups have put the provincial government on notice: They stand with the right to a referendum, and stand opposed to the Alton Gas caverns. [Photo: tidalboreraftingtours.com]
Commercial, fishing, conservation and environmental groups have put the provincial government on notice: They stand with the right to a referendum, and stand opposed to the Alton Gas caverns. [Photo: tidalboreraftingtours.com]

Sipekne'katik First Nation, Nova Scotia -- Although the Crown's 'Duty to Consult' policy must legally be interpreted “generously”, it appears that, in Nova Scotia, such generosity does not extend to allowing the Mi'kmaq communities of Sipekne'katik or Millbrook First Nation to hold a general membership referendum related to the proposed Alton Gas Caverns project. The project calls, eventually, for the hollowing-out of between 15-20 naturally-occurring salt caverns near the Shubenacadie river, for the purpose of storing natural gas. Yesterday Alton Gas received permission from the provincial government to re-inject brine from the caverns back into the Shubenacadie, under monitored conditions.

The communities of Sipekne'katik First Nation and Millbrook First Nation stand to be the Mi'kmaq communities with the most to lose, if something were to go wrong with the project. Both communities continue to use the Shubenacadie river, not only as a food source, but also for any number of community, personal and traditional means.

But while pigeon-holed into an arguably dishonourable provincial interpretation of the Crown's 'Duty', which has buried its proverbial head in the sand on the issue, the communities' call for a referendum has not fallen on deaf ears, in terms of the wider Nova Scotia community.

Immediately following the announcement that Nova Scotia considers its consultative requirements to be over and done with, in terms of the Alton Gas project, a letter was publicly released, addressed to Nova Scotia Premier and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Stephen McNeil, Minister of Energy Michel Samson and Minister of Environment Margaret Miller.

Signed by a variety of commercial, environmental and conservation interests, the letter focuses in on the province's failure to 'meaningfully' consult. It also speaks to the years of non-Indigenous effort and opposition to the Alton Gas project – also ignored by the province.

In effect, while in support of Sipekn'ekatik and Millbrook, the letter also says: 'This is Not Just an Indigenous Issue.'

It reads as follows:

“This morning’s announcement by Minister of Energy Michel Samson to issue the industrial approval for Alton Gas Storage to operate is a direct violation of the rights of First Nations peoples to meaningful consultation, as well as the principle of community consent for all communities. We applaud the efforts of the Sipekne'katik and Millbrook communities for their dedication to environmental justice for the Shubenacadie River system and the safety of the surrounding community when it comes to salt cavern gas storage.


The Sipekne'katik and Millbrook First Nations informed Premier McNeil of their plans to hold a referendum on the issue of whether to allow natural gas storage and the dumping of brine waste into the river system. We applaud and support this bold decision by the Sipekne'katik community to demand meaningful community engagement.

Non-indigenous residents of surrounding communities have also made many efforts to tell regulators that we do not want this dangerous development in our community. We do not believe that the assessment process has sufficiently evaluated the potential and cumulative risks to community health, safety, and to the environment of the Alton Gas Salt Cavern storage project.  Indigenous and non indigenous residents of the area have worked together to show our opposition by holding peaceful protests, writing letters, making petitions, calling our government officials and holding community meetings. Today’s decision shows a complete lack of regard for both  communities’ voices on the issue.  

We support the Indigenous treaty right to meaningful consultation. We are also committed to protect the environment. As settlers on this land, and as responsible citizens, we are also bound by the Peace and Friendship Treaties to protect the land and life that it supports. We do not feel the required duty to consult has been fulfilled for First Nations communities, or for local residents.

We ask that the government suspend further approvals while First Nations communities consult their membership about this project.  We also ask for complete and up to date evaluation of the full and cumulative risks of the project, based on the latest knowledge and science.


Valerie and Colin Hawks, representing those concerned citizens in Brentwood and Alton

East Hants Fracking Opposition Group

Striped Bass Association

Shubenacadie River Commercial Fishing Association

Supported by:

The Council of Canadians

Ecology Action Centre

Sierra Club Foundation – Atlantic Chapter

Nova Scotia Fracking Research and Action Coalition

Canadian Youth Climate Coalition & Delegation to COP21

Divest Dalhousie

Citizen Action to Protect the Environment (CAPE)”


As of press time, signatory groups continue to add their names to the letter, which is to be considered a living document.

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