Ellen Page takes aim at Alton’s controversial underground gas storage plan

HALIFAX — Actor Ellen Page is once again harnessing her massive online following to advocate for environmental issues in her home province: this time, publicly opposing a controversial project that would eventually see natural gas stored in huge underground caverns north of Halifax.

Alton Natural Gas LP intends to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out underground salt deposits to create the caverns east of Alton, N.S., then pump the leftover brine solution into the river. The planned has raised the ire of Indigenous protesters who have set up a permanent protest camp near the waterway.

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in nearby Indian Brook argue that the project will damage the 73-kilometre tidal river, which runs through the middle of mainland Nova Scotia.

The Halifax-born Page echoed their concerns on Friday, lambasting the project in a series of tweets to her 1.4 million followers.

“This project is a massive risk to the Shubenacadie River. Alton Gas will be releasing 10 million litres of brine into the river each day,” she wrote in a handwritten note posted on her Twitter account.

“Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous allies are actively opposing the completion of the project, and they need our support.”

The movie star also tweeted out a recommendation for “There’s Something in the Water,” a book by Nova Scotian author and activist Ingrid Waldron, which outlines cases of environmental racism in Nova Scotia and Canada.

In an interview, Waldron said Indigenous communities are the ones most affected by environmental racism — and that includes members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation.

“What binds every case of environmental racism in Nova Scotia and Canada … is the failure to consult with the communities, whether you’re talking about Indigenous communities or black communities,” she said.

Waldron, a sociologist and associate professor at Dalhousie University, is also the leader of a community-based research and engagement project on environmental racism in Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities.

She said she’s had a conversation with Page in which they discussed ways to collaborate on getting the broader public more interested in these issues, and Waldron said she’s happy the actor is voicing her support for the pushback against Alton Gas.

The 31-year-old’s fame and relative youth could help to get more young people involved, she said, adding that young people are the ones most engaged in the ENRICH Project.

“Of course, she’s an actress. She’s going to bring more attention than I, or anybody could ever bring to this issue. And for me, it’s exciting that she’s willing to do that,” said Waldron.

Page “obviously has a love for her hometown and authentically wants to help,” she added.

Alton Gas had planned to start the process of creating the caverns before the end of the year, but earlier this month the company said 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 asked the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to extend its cavern construction permit to Sept. 1, 2023.

In an email, Alton Gas spokeswoman Lori MacLean said she was confident the project would pose no threat to fish or fish habitat: two environmental assessments were completed, she said, and each included a Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study conducted by the Mi’kmaq firm Membertou Geomatics.

“As well there has been 10 years of ongoing scientific monitoring of the tidal Shubenacadie River, and an independent third party science review of the project, led by the Assembly of N.S. Mi’kmaq Chiefs,” she wrote.

“Alton has accepted and is implementing all recommendations from that review.”

But Cheryl Maloney, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, said there wasn’t enough engagement with the community affected, or the province at large, when the project began over a decade ago.

Maloney said she and other activists have spent years trying to further educate the public about the project and its environmental implications.

“We went through a lot of years to get to where the public knows,” she said in an interview from Shubenacadie. “After we started the protesting is when (Alton Gas) all of a sudden decided to up their consultation efforts. But they’ve never been meaningful.”

She added that she was pleased that Page is helping to spread the word about the issue.

In recent weeks, the actor, whose credits include “Inception,” “Juno” and ”X-Men,” also voiced her opposition to the Northern Pulp mill’s plan to build an effluent pipeline into the ocean.

The plan to dump treated effluent from the company’s Abercrombie, N.S., mill into the Northumberland Strait has angered fishermen, environmentalists and the P.E.I. government.

Earlier this month, Page tweeted that Nova Scotia’s government must stop its “corporate welfare” for the company.

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