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.

Phytoforensics: Using Trees to Find Contamination

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently prepared on Fact Sheet on how phytoforensics can be used to screen for contamination prior to traditional sampling methods.  Phytoforensics is a low cost, rapid sampling method that collects tree-core samples from the tree trunk to map the extent of contamination below the ground.

By utilizing phytoforensics, environmental professionals can save the cost and time associated with traditional methods of subsurface investigation – drilling boreholes, installing monitoring wells.

Scientists at the Missouri Water Science Center were among the first to use phytoforensics for contamination screening prior to employing traditional sampling methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods.

The advantages of phytoforensics include the following: quickly screen sites for subsurface contamination; cost- and time-effective approach that uses pre-existing trees; non-invasive method (no drill rigs or heavy equipment required); and representative of large subsurface volumes.

Phytoforensics testing involves the collection of a tree-core sample with necessary sampling equipment including an incremental borer, forceps, a sample vial, and gloves.  Samples are collected at about 3 feet (1 metre) above ground surface, placed into vials for subsequent laboratory analysis.

Similar to phytoforensics, phytoremediation is the field of looking to use plants to mitigate environmental pollutants and human exposures. As plants are efficient, key components in local and global water, carbon and energy cycles, they can influence pollutant transport and availability in many different ways.

Dr. Joel Burken, Missouri S&T professor of civil and environmental engineering, tests a tree in Rolla’s Schuman Park with then high school senior Amanda Holmes and S&T graduate student Matt Limmer. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Canada: Environmental Review Tribunal gives Ministry Broad Preventative Powers over Migrating Contamination

Article by Stanley D. Berger, Fogler, Rubinoff LLP

On September 1, 2017, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal in the matter of Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. et al. v. the Director, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change made a preliminary ruling that the Director had jurisdiction to make an order under s.18 of the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (Ontario EPA) requiring a person who owns or owned, or has or had management or control of a contaminated undertaking or property to delineate contamination that had already migrated to off-site properties.  The property in question, formerly a small-appliance manufacturing business, was contaminated and the various contaminants were of concern to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, having migrated to other Picton residential, commercial and institutional properties where they might be entering nearby buildings by vapour intrusion.  Section 18 of the Ontario EPA provides that the Director may make orders preventing, decreasing or eliminating an adverse effect that may result from the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking or the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property.  The Director’s Order was challenged on three grounds:

  1. The adverse effect the Director could address was limited to a future event or circumstance (given that s.18 is prospective and preventative);
  2. The adverse effect had to relate to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant that was on an orderee’s property at the time the order was made;
  3. The order could require work only on site but not off-site, to address the risk of an adverse effect.

The Tribunal rejected all three arguments, reasoning that adverse effects resulting from contamination were frequently ongoing rather than static, with no clear line between existing and future effects.  The Tribunal looked to the purpose of the Ontario EPA which was to protect and conserve the natural environment and found the orderees’ arguments were inconsistent with this purpose.  Contamination and adverse effects were not constrained by property boundaries and therefore it was immaterial whether the contaminant was on the orderee’s property at the time the order was made. Finally, the list of requirements that could be ordered under s.18(1) EPA included off-site work.

 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the Author

Stanley Berger is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in environmental law.  He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1981. He joined the law firm of Fogler Rubinoff on July 4 2013.  Stanley was the founder of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization and served as its President between 2008-2015, and remains a board member.  He is also is a former President of the International Nuclear Law Association.  He has taught nuclear law for the Nuclear Energy Agency in France and is an adjunct professor for York University’s Professional Master’s Degree in Energy.  Stanley is the author of a quarterly publication entitled “The Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences” and edits an annual review of environmental law.

Stanley represents suppliers and operators in the nuclear industry on nuclear liability, regulatory and supply chain issues. He provides legal advice to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. Other clients include the CANDU Owners Group and a large Ontario municipality. His environmental practice includes litigation before courts, boards and tribunals, as well as solicitor’s work on behalf of renewable energy companies, landowners and waste management entities. He represented a First Nation on regulatory matters relating to a renewable energy project. His practice also includes the protection of proprietary information on applications before Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commission.

This article was originally published on the Fogler, Rubinoff LLP website.

Environmental Opportunity for Women-owned Small Business Firms in the U.S.

Federal Business Opportunities, FBO-5787, Solicitation W912P917R0055, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a solicitation that is earmarked  for woman-owned small business (WOSB) firms.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District, plans to seek firms for environmental remediation construction efforts that include remedial design, remedial action, and remedial excavations of contaminated material at pre-determined depths; HTRW manifesting; utility relocation; water management; engineering support; and construction support.  The anticipated work lies within the geographic boundaries of the Mississippi Valley Division and U.S. EPA Regions 5 and 7.  Solicitation W912P9-17-R-0055 will be an RFP for lowest-price technically acceptable proposals. Contract duration is five years. The NAICS code for the work is 541620 (Environmental Consulting Services), with an SBA size standard of $15M.  Release of the solicitation is anticipated on FedBizOpps on or about October 9, 2017. For more information, visit https://www.fbo.gov/notices/106dd6fa43c17c865b58b8f17de28425

In-Situ Remediation of Tetrachloroethylene and its Intermediates in Groundwater

Researchers from Tianjin University in China recently released results from a study that showed the results of the use of an anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier at removing tetrachloroethylene (also known as “perc”) and its intermediates in groundwater.

The anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier (PRB) system that was tested consisted of four different functional layers and was designed to remediate PCE-contaminated groundwater.  The first (oxygen capture) layer maintained the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration at <1.35 mg/L in influent supplied to the second (anaerobic) layer.  The third (oxygen-releasing) layer maintained DO concentration at >11.3 mg/L within influent supplied to the fourth (aerobic) layer.  Results show that 99% of PCE was removed, mostly within the second (anaerobic) layer.  The toxic by-products TCE, DCE, and VC were further degraded by 98, 90, and 92%, respectively, in layer 4 (aerobic). The anaerobic/aerobic PRB thus could control both PCE and its degradation by-products.

Photo Credit: US EPA

Tetrachloroethylene is a manufactured chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal-degreasing. It is also used to make other chemicals and is used in some consumer products.

Tetrachloroethylene is present in the subsurface at contaminated sites, often as a result of its inappropriate disposal and release from dry-cleaning and degreasing facilities or landfills.

QM Environmental Announces Appointment of New CEO

QM Environmental, a Canadian environmental and industrial services company, recently announced the appointment of Justin Sharp as Chief Executive Officer.

Mr. Sharp brings more than two decades of experience in senior leadership roles, most recently as President and Chief Operating Officer of FirstOnSite Restoration, a Canadian disaster restoration company, where he led a restructuring effort to position the company for sale to a US operator, resulting in the creation of the second largest restoration firm in North America.  Prior to that, he held progressive positions over almost twenty years at SNC-Lavalin, serving his last five years as Senior Vice President, Operations and Maintenance across North America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, where he led expansion efforts, refined product offerings to better serve the local markets and clientele, created a world-class team, and prepared the groundwork to position the company for long-term growth.

Mr. Sharp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and a Master’s degree from the University of Toronto.

QM Environmental is a environmental and industrial services company with offices located across Canada.  QM services include: Environmental Remediation, Demolition and Decommissioning, Hazardous Materials Abatement, Civil Earthworks, Emergency Response, Training, Waste Management and Facilities, and Water Treatment.

Auto paint and Supply company fined for environmental violations

Fine Auto Paints and Supplies Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario, was fined recently $25,000, after pleading guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice last month to one count of contravening the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Automotive Refinishing Products Regulations, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

An investigation by Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) enforcement officers revealed that the company had sold automotive refinishing products that contained Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in excess of the allowable limit.

VOCs are primary precursors to the formation of ground level ozone and particulate matter which are the main ingredients of smog. Smog is known to have adverse effects on human health and the environment.

As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.  The Environmental Offenders Registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.

The fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF).Created in 1995, the Environmental Damages Fund is a Government of Canada program administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Fund follows the “polluter pays” principle and ensures that court-awarded penalties are used for projects with positive environmental impacts.

Canadian Environmental Code of Practice for AST’s and UST’s

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) recently updated the Note to Reader of the Environmental Code of Practice for Aboveground and Underground Storage Tank Systems Containing Petroleum and Allied Petroleum Products to reflect Canadian Standards Association standard CAN/CSA-B837-14.  The new standard addresses collapsible fabric storage tanks.  Please click on the following link for details: http://www.ccme.ca/en/resources/contaminated_site_management/management.html

Ontario’s $25.8 Million in Funding Available For Low Carbon Innovations

The government of the province of Ontario, Canada recently announced $25.8 million has been allocated to the Low Carbon Innovation Fund (LCIF) as a part of the province’s Climate Change Action Plan.  The funding will be used to support emerging, innovative technologies in areas such as alternative energy generation and conservation, new biofuels or bio-products, next-generation transportation or novel carbon capture and usage technologies.  Innovative remediation projects that can prove to be low-carbon innovations will be considered for funding.

Funding is available either from:

  • The Technology Demonstration stream, which aims to support the development and commercialization of innovative low carbon technologies through testing in real-world settings; or
  • The Technology Validation stream, which aims to fund proof-of-concept or prototype projects from eligible Ontario companies or academic organizations to help them get to market faster.

To be eligible for LCIF, projects must be conducted in Ontario and must show significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario.  Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan is key to its achievement of its goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent below by 2030, and 80 percent below by 2050.

The deadline for the first round of funding was September 24th, 2017.  Notification on successful applications will be announced later this month.