Alton and natural gas

Posted on December 08, 2017

We provided the following guest commentary to the Chronicle Herald and the Truro Daily News to share facts about the Alton project and natural gas use in Nova Scotia:

Your Nov. 30 article on the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project (“Pipeline planned for proposed protection area”) included comments about the project and natural gas use in Nova Scotia that are not supported by facts. The Alton Natural Gas Storage Project will benefit Nova Scotia by providing options for energy consumers, contribute to a cleaner environment and help grow our economy. Alton will be built responsibly and is staffed by a team of Nova Scotians. Here are the facts:

Natural gas is used today by a wide range of customers in Nova Scotia including thousands of homes, many of the province’s largest industries and employers, commercial and manufacturing businesses and many of the province’s universities and hospitals. Natural gas also helps to fuel Nova Scotia’s electricity grid by providing quick-acting, reliable generation that can support the addition of further renewable energy sources.

Typical natural gas users in Nova Scotia convert from much more carbon-intensive fuels such as heavy and light fuel oils. Because natural gas emits 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than fuel oil and 50 per cent less than coal, it plays an important role helping Nova Scotia meet its GHG emissions targets and improving air quality. To date, conversion from higher-emitting fuel sources to natural gas is estimated to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the province by more than one million CO2 equivalent tonnes.

Despite claims made in the article, planning continues at Alton. Three wells — not four — were drilled for potential cavern development. At this time, we plan to develop two caverns for the thousands of natural gas customers in Nova Scotia using this cleaner fuel.

Natural gas customers in Nova Scotia have collectively saved hundreds of millions of dollars on their energy costs, but they also pay higher rates for natural gas compared to other Canadians in the winter.

The Alton Natural Gas Storage Project is part of the solution to reduce energy costs for customers. By safely storing natural gas in salt caverns one kilometre underground when prices are low, customers benefit by drawing from that stored, lower-cost natural gas when demand and prices are higher, such as the wintertime.

The development of natural gas in Nova Scotia supports jobs and the economy. Since 2014, Alton has sourced goods, services and labour from more than 70 Nova Scotia companies. Approximately $69 million has been invested to develop Alton to date, and in all, Alton is an investment of more than $130 million in rural Nova Scotia.

Both the provincial environmental assessment for the Alton natural gas pipeline and a separate focus report considered its potential route. Detailed information was gathered including field surveys and traditional Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge.

The Alton pipeline will be designed, constructed, operated and maintained in accordance with the latest edition of Canada Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z662 – Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems, the national standard for pipelines in Canada.

To minimize the footprint of the pipeline we plan to follow deforested land and existing roadways and trails wherever possible, consider wetlands locations, and avoid residential properties when we can.

To cross any open and flowing waterways, like the Stewiacke River, we’ll use a trenchless technique well-established by industry to tunnel the pipeline underground from one river bank to the other. This means the river bed and water are not disturbed. Technology like this was used under Halifax Harbour to connect natural gas service between Halifax and Dartmouth.

We have undertaken environmental field studies for the pipeline, but construction has not started. We will work with regulators and stakeholders to develop next steps.

The Alton team in Nova Scotia continues to actively engage with community stakeholders, representatives of the Mi’kmaq and government. Further, Alton’s community liaison committee meets regularly and provides practical advice and feedback to us on our activity.

We provide regular information updates to the public through online Alton Updates and community newsletters. In fact, information in the September 2017 newsletter directly addresses a matter raised in the Herald story: mud in the Alton channel. As noted in the newsletter, the buildup of mud in the Alton channel was expected because brining has not started at Alton, which means water is not being drawn from the channel or released back into it. Through the gradual two- to three-year brining process to create the natural gas storage caverns, the water movement in and out of the channel will prevent mud buildup.

For further facts about the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project, I encourage readers to visit the Alton website at

Tim Church is president of Alton Natural Gas Storage and VP Stakeholder Relations, AltaGas Ltd.