Man by Shubenacadie River at the Alton Gas site, with Mi'kmaq and Warrior flags.
That Alton gas site. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

The company that owns the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project has announced the project is dead. Decommissioning will begin on the two underground salt caverns drilled to store energy delivered by the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline. 

The statement put out this afternoon by the project’s parent company, AltaGas of Calgary, indicates it has given up on the project five years after winning approval from the Nova Scotia Environment Department. 

“The project has received mixed support, challenges and experienced delay,” says the statement put out by Lori MacLean, media advisor for the Alton Natural Gas Project.

The Alton project has been the subject of four years of court appeals, blockades, and protests from First Nations and environmentalists concerned the project’s plan to flush salty brine into the Shubenacadie River could harm fish habitat and interfere with the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s treaty right to fish. 

Five years of research on the river undertaken by Dalhousie University did not validate those concerns. But the company still required a permit from Environment and Climate Change Canada before it could go ahead with plans to dump the brine into the river. 

The economics of the project were predicated on Heritage Gas — Nova Scotia’s natural gas distribution company — buying natural gas when the market price was low, storing the gas underground, then delivering the gas to customers of Heritage during the winter when prices are high.

The Alton project was promoted to Nova Scotians as way to keep natural gas costs down (for companies and residents close enough to the pipeline to access the energy which has been sold at prices consistently cheaper than oil) as well as a greener fuel with less GHG emissions than oil and coal. (The true GHG impact of natural gas is highly debated, as fracking and other extraction methods have high GHG seepage that isn’t accounted for in the official numbers.)

Today’s statement suggests the writing was on the wall when AltaGas sold off its natural gas distribution company in Nova Scotia three years ago:

 In 2018, AltaGas divested its interest in the local natural gas utility as the company repositioned its focus on two core areas of business, midstream and energy export opportunities off the West Coast of North America and natural gas utilities located in the U.S. With the sale of the Nova Scotia utility, the repositioning of the business and the challenging nature of the storage project economics, AltaGas has decided not to continue with the development of Alton.

MacLean says AltaGas spent a total of $75 million on the Alton Storage Project. The statement goes on to say the company will work with stakeholders, including the Mi’kmaq and the province, over the next weeks and months to decommission the caverns:

As we begin the process to decommission Alton, we will continue working to minimize our environmental impact as we remain committed to the health of the Shubenacadie River estuary.

The statement says more information on the decommissioning of the Project will be available on its website.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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1 Comment

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  1. Yes you are correct, that the press release from AltaGas does SUGGEST the “writing was on the wall” with the 2018 “divestiture”. But its all face saving BS.

    The socalled ‘divesiture’ was a corporate spinoff to appease shareholders. They put all their Canadian utilities into AltasGas Camada. That included Heritage Gas. It did NOT include Alton Gas- because it was back then already a financial embrassment they did not want anyone looking at.

    And it was NEVER about storing gas for Heritage Gas- that was just the excuse- the carrot to dangle in Nova Scotia. The 4 caverns (then 3, then 2) were to be the first of 15 plus to store gas for the lucrative Boston market. Screw Nova Scotia.

    Alton Gas stopped being economically viable when construction finished 5 years ago. They kepy ut this charade so they wouldnt have to face shareholders and sully their vaunted project management reputation. They blew this one six ways to Sunday, from the word go in 2011.

    Could not happen to a more deserving bunch. I hope some day they get to wear it in Calgary and New York.

    Great present for my 70th birthday !!! Thank you everybody !