A controversial plan to store natural gas in huge underground caverns north of Halifax is facing more delays.
Alton Natural Gas, which had planned to start the process of creating the caverns before the end of the year, says that plan has been put on hold because of “project and regulatory planning.”
And while the projected in-service date of 2022 remains unchanged, the company says it recently filed a letter with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to extend its cavern construction permit to Sept. 1, 2023.
The company, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas, had initially planned to have construction completed between 2013 and 2018.
“There are no changes proposed to the facility … and no change or modification to the terms and conditions in the approval to construct, other than the change in the date,” Alton spokesperson Lori Maclean said in an emailed statement.
Maclean said work on the caverns can’t start until the extension is granted.
The storage is needed by AltaGas subsidiary Heritage Gas, which sells natural gas in the Halifax area and a few other Nova Scotia communities. Heritage Gas wants to stockpile its product during the colder months to protect its customers from price shocks when demand spikes.
The project, on the drawing board for 12 years, has faced opposition from Indigenous protesters, who have set up a permanent protest camp near the Shubenacadie River.
The company wants to use water from the river to flush out underground salt deposits, creating caverns east of Alton, N.S.
The company says the leftover brine solution will be pumped into the river, twice a day at high tide, over a two- to three-year period.
Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in nearby Indian Brook, N.S., have argued that the project will hurt the tidal river, which runs through the middle of Nova Scotia.
The province’s opposition New Democrats say Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government has failed to respond to letters suggesting the cavern plan may not be compliant with federal regulations.
“This is a major issue and people want to know that their concerns are being heard,” NDP environment critic Lenore Zann said Monday in an emailed statement.
However, the company has insisted the brining process will be safe.
“We are confident that as designed and operated, there will be no impact to fish or fish habitat from Alton,” the company said in a recent statement.
“There have been in-depth discussions with the federal government, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, regarding Alton, and the project’s engagement with government at all levels continues.”
The company has said it plans to create two caverns about a kilometre underground. But the company has also said it may need as many as 15 caverns.
Each of the caverns are expected to be about 80 metres high by 50 metres wide. Together, the two caverns will be capable of storing up to four billion cubic feet of natural gas.
The caverns would be linked to the nearby Maritimes and Northeast natural gas pipeline, about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.