Alberta Coal mine fined $1 million for Fisheries Act Violations

Sherritt International Corporation (Sherritt) recently pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act.  Sherritt was sentenced to pay $1,050,000.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

The Coal Valley Mine, which was owned by Sherritt, from 2001 to 2014, is an open-pit coal mine located 90 km south of Edson, Alberta.  The Coal Valley Mine is a 20,660 Ha. surface mine. The mine operates both truck/shovel and dragline pits and utilizes a dragline for coal removal. The area has a long history of mining and the Coal Valley Mine was opened in 1978 to supply coal to Ontario Hydro and for overseas export.

Coal is uncovered at the mine using the two draglines  and two truck/shovel fleets. The exposed coal is hauled from the mine to the heavy media wash plant where the waste is removed and then loaded on trains to be shipped to the ports. Current annual production of the mine is 3.0 million tonnes and the plant has capacity to operate at 4.0 million tonnes per year.

On August 3rd, 2012, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers visited the mine in response to a spill report, and they determined that effluent being deposited from a waste-water pond was deleterious to fish. ECCC enforcement officers subsequently issued a direction under the Fisheries Act, which resulted in the deposit being stopped.  Further investigation by ECCC determined that there were two previous releases of deleterious effluent from waste-water ponds, on July 27th, 2011.

The releases went into tributaries of the Athabasca River, including the Erith River portions, which are identified by the Government of Alberta as “ecologically significant habitat” for Athabasca rainbow trout, a species at risk.

The waste-water ponds at the Coal Valley Mine collected surface water that was treated with a chemical flocculant to remove suspended sediment before being discharged.  Both suspended sediment and an excess of flocculant can be toxic to fish.

Of the $1,050,000 fine, $990,000 will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF).  The EDF was created in 1995 by the Government of Canada. The fund follows the polluter pays principle, and it ensures that court-awarded penalties are used for projects with positive environmental impacts.

Teck Coal Ltd. fined $1.4 million for Toxic Release

Teck Coal Limited recently pleaded guilty to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act in the Provincial Court of British Columbia.   The court ordered the company to pay a penalty of $1,425,000, which will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund, and used for purposes related to the conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat or the restoration of fish habitat in the East Kootenay region of B.C.  Additionally, Teck Resources will post information regarding this conviction on its website.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

Teck Coal’s Line Creek Operations is located in southeastern British Columbia.  On October 17th, 2014, enforcement officers from Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) launched an investigation following a report that fish had been found dead in ponds connected to Line Creek which runs adjacent to the coal mining operation.  During the investigation, ECCC enforcement officers found that the effluent from the water treatment facility going into Line Creek was deleterious to fish.  Numerous dead fish were found in the Line Creek watershed as a result of this discharge, including Bull trout.  Bull trout are identified as a species of special concern in this area of British Columbia.

The company has a permit to discharge treated effluent into the Line Creek, however in the fall of 2014, there was a malfunction of the treatment system.  As a result, toxic levels of nitrate, phosphorus, selenium and hydrogen sulfates entered the Line Creek, subsequently killing over 74 fish.

Line Creek is identified by the Government of British Columbia as part of a “Classified Water” system.  This provincial classification means that the water system is seen to have a high fisheries value and it requires special fishing licenses.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility cost $120 million to construct.  The facility treats up to 7,500 m3 (2 million gallons) of water per day – enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.  Selenium concentrations are reduced by about 96% in treated water, to below 20 parts per billion.  Nitrate concentrations are reduced by over 99% in treated water, to below 3 parts per million.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility

Teck’s Line Creek operation produces steelmaking coal – also called metallurgical coal or coking coal — which is used to make steel.  The processed coal is transported by sea to the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.  The current annual production capacities of the mine and preparation plant are approximately 3.5 and 3.5 million tonnes of clean coal, respectively. Proven and probable reserves at Line Creek are projected to support mining at planned production rates for a further 23 years.

Fine for Illegal Storage of PCBs

Recently in a Quebec court, Mr. Isaac Gelber pleaded guilty to three charges related to the illegal use/storage of PCBs and he was fined $25,500 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

The investigation, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, showed that Mr. Isaac Gelber had committed several violations to the Act, namely:

  • Using transformers containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) thereby violating the PCB Regulations;
  • Failing to comply with the environmental protection compliance order, issued by an officer in January 2013, to dispose of three (3) transformers containing more than 500 mg/kg of PCBs
  • Knowingly making false or misleading statements

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used to be very popular in a wide range of industrial and electrical applications. They were excellent fire resistant coolants and insulating fluids in transformers, capacitors, cables, light ballasts, bridge bearings, and magnets, among many other things.  Unfortunately, they turned out to be persistent and toxic to humans and the environment. PCBs can:

  • Travel long distances and deposit far away from their sources of release
  • Accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms
  • Cause complications like cancer and birth defects
  • Potentially disrupt immune and reproductive systems and even diminish intelligence.

Amended PCB Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), came into force on September 5, 2008. The new regulations set phase out dates for in –use PCB equipment, as well as rigorous labelling and reporting requirements.  They also require prompt and proper disposal of PCB equipment, once it is no longer in active use.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change enforcement officers conduct inspections and investigations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.  They ensure that regulated organizations and individuals are in compliance with environmental legislation.

 

U.S. Federal Appeals Court finds Exxon not quality for Oil Spill in Arkansas

As reported in Inside Climate News, a federal appeals court has let ExxonMobil largely off the hook for a 2013 pipeline spill that deluged a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, with more than 200,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil, sickening residents and forcing them from their homes.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned federal findings of violations and the better part of a $2.6 million fine imposed on Exxon’s pipeline unit in 2015 by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The regulator had accused the company of failing to maintain the decades-old Pegasus Pipeline and to prioritize testing of a segment of older, high-risk pipe where a 22-foot gash eventually opened along a metal seam.

Oil Spill – Mayflower , Arkansas

Exxon challenged the violation and fine, arguing there was no proof its actions contributed to the spill and saying it had conducted adequate testing of the pipeline as required by law. The appeals court agreed, saying the company met its legal obligation when it “conducted a lengthy, repeated and in-depth analysis” of the pipeline and its risks.

“The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, oil spills still do occur,” the court concluded. It called PHMSA’s determination that the company failed to consider risks “arbitrary and capricious.”

In October 2015, PHMSA sent the company a 46-page order, citing nine violations. Ultimately, Exxon challenged six of those violations. The court sided with Exxon on five of them, saying the company took sufficient steps to analyze risks along the pipeline. On one violation—accusing Exxon of saying it had run a certain test on the pipeline when it had not—the court agreed with PHMSA, but it noted the company’s misrepresentation was not a “causal factor in the Mayflower Accident,” as the agency asserted. The court said it would ask the agency to re-evaluate an appropriate penalty for that violation. Exxon has also reached separate settlements with homeowners and governments related to the pipeline spill.

The pipeline consists of three separate sections—built in 1947, 1954 and 1973—that were joined as one system in 2005 and 2006 to carry oil along an 859-mile stretch, southward from from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas. The segment that burst is in the oldest section of the pipeline and is made of “low-frequency electric-resistance welded” (LF-ERW) steel pipe, made before 1970 and known to have a higher risk of rupturing along its lengthwise seams because of a manufacturing defect.

The Pipeline Safety Act requires pipeline operators to create “Integrity Management Programs,” which include a written plan to assess pipelines and prioritize certain sections for testing based on risks. The regulations spell out the methods pipeline operators can use to perform these “integrity assessments.” If the pipe is LF-ERW pipe that’s susceptible to “longitudinal seam failure,” the assessment methods have to be capable of detecting corrosion and assessing the strength of the seams. But the law isn’t clear how operators should determine if pipelines are likely to suffer “longitudinal seam failure” in the first place.

The court said that the “pipeline integrity regulations themselves did not provide ExxonMobil notice that the pipeline’s leak history compelled it to label the LF-ERW pipe susceptible to longitudinal seam failure.”