Advance Technology Camera spots hidden Oil Spills

As reported in the New Scientist, a new kind of polarising camera is available that can detect otherwise invisible oil sheens.

Like many oil imagers, the Pyxis camera sees the infrared radiation emitted by all objects.  That is important because there is often a temperature difference between oil and water.  However, if there isn’t one, thermal imagers don’t work.  So the Pyxis also detects differences between the way oil and water scatter light.  Thanks to this differing polarisation, it works not only when the oil and water are the same temperature – but also in pitch darkness.

Infrared polarimetry has been used in astronomy to help identify distant stellar objects. Polaris Sensor Technologies, based in Alabama, has modified the technology for a new use.

“The optical system and the physics behind it are very complex,” says David Chenault, President of Polaris Sensor Technologies.  “We started building infrared polarimeters several decades ago, but they were bulky and not capable of looking at dynamic scenes.” Only in the past few years did it become possible to significantly shrink the sensor – now roughly the size of a fist – and make it capable of imaging moving scenes. That is important for detecting oil on water.

The new camera can see spills invisible to the naked eye from 2 kilometres away.  Its size means it can be mounted on a small drone or other robot.

Doug Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Emergency Response Division says these cameras could augment NOAA satellite networks, which detect and track suspected oil spills.  While they can spot even small spills, visual confirmation is crucial to rule out false positives. “Wind shadow may look like an oil slick,” he says.

Confirmation is usually done by people in a helicopter or plane, so that is where a drone-mounted camera could save a lot of time.

The camera can also spot and track oil washed up on beaches. Typically, this is a time-consuming task that must be done by people on the ground.

The sensor passed extensive tests with crude oil and diesel in different wave conditions at the massive Ohmsett test facility pool in New Jersey and at an actual spill off Santa Barbara, California, in 2015.  Russell Chipman at the University of Arizona says this is a significant development. “The costs of polarimeters are decreasing,” he says, and the miniaturisation and commercialisation of infrared polarimetric sensors means this technology can now be deployed widely to detect all kinds of oil slicks.

While Polaris is currently concentrating on oil detection, more applications for the camera are likely to be discovered when it goes into mass production, anticipated early next year.

 

Degrees in urban revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, and environmental restoration

Revitalization News recently assembled a catalog of 38 undergrad, graduate and certificate courses in urban revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, and environmental restoration worldwide.  The courses are from institutions from all over the world, including the United States and Canada.  The catalog has something for almost anyone ranging from an online course on Landscape Restoration for Sustainable Development , a Master’s degree in technical brownfields revelopment at to the Technical University of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, to a B.Sc. in ecological restoration at Trent University and Fleming College in Ontario.  A complete list of the courses can be found at https://revitalizationnews.com/training-education.

Students participating in 1-YEAR graduate certificate in ecological restoration (Niagara College, Ontario, Canada)

New spill rules tag transport companies with response, recovery costs in B.C.

As reported by Dirk Meissner of the Canadian Press, the Government of British Columbia has introduced pollution prevention regulations to hold transport companies moving petroleum products across the province responsible for the costs of responding to and cleaning up spills.

Environment Minister George Heyman said recently that the new regulations will take affect at the end of October and apply to pipeline, railway and truck company owners and transporters moving more than 10,000 litres of liquid petroleum products.

The rules increase responsibility, transparency and accountability for operators who transport potentially dangerous products through B.C., he said.

“I would hope that business doesn’t believe that individual members of the public through their tax dollars should be responsible for cleaning up spills they incur in the course of doing business and making a profit.”

The aim of the new rules is to prevent spill sites from being left contaminated for months and sometimes years, Heyman said, noting companies will be required to submit spill response and recovery plans ahead of moving their products.

“Most people subscribe to the polluter pay principle,” he said. “These regulations also require that spill contingency plans be put into place and that recovery plans and reporting plans be implemented in the case of a spill. That’s just reasonable.”

CN Rail said in a statement that it continues to work with the B.C. government and its industry partners on emergency response and preparation plans. The railway transports oil and numerous other products, including grain, across B.C.

“Emergency and spill response preparation and training is an important part of our business,” the statement said. “CN has in place emergency response plans and conducts spill and emergency response training with stakeholders across our network.”

The B.C. Trucking Association said in a statement that it supports the province’s new rules.

“We have been actively engaged in working with the government on the development of these regulations because the safety of our drivers, the public and the environment is our number one priority,” the statement said.

New pollution prevention regulations will hold transport companies and pipeline operators moving petroleum products across British Columbia responsible for spill response and recovery costs. A pipeline at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, with an oil tanker in dock on Burrard Inlet.

Last spring, the previous Liberal government amended the Environmental Management Act to include some of the new regulations, but Heyman said he further tweaked the polluter pay regulations to ensure annual public reporting by the government.

He said he also shortened the deadline for operators to put their spill contingency plans in place to one year for trucking companies and six months for railways and pipelines.

The new rules do not apply to marine vessels carrying petroleum products along the B.C. coastline.

“Marine spills are regulated by the federal government but there is some jurisdiction for the province if a marine spill ends up washing onto the shoreline of B.C.’s jurisdiction or the seabed,” Heyman said.

The province is developing a strengthened marine response and recovery program that complements federal spill regulations, he added.

The new regulations come on the one-year anniversary of a fuel spill off B.C.’s central coast, where a tug sank, spilling more than 100,000 litres of diesel into waters near the Great Bear Rainforest.

Marilyn Slett, chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation, said the sinking of the tug, Nathan E. Stewart, has had devastating social and economic impacts on her community.

A valuable fishing area remains closed a year after the spill and many Heiltsuk face the prospect of a second year without revenue from the area’s valuable shellfish species, she said.

by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Heiltsuk First Nation to sue Kirby Corporation over 2016 diesel spill

As reported in Coast Mountain News, this month marks the one-year anniversary of the October 13 oil spill in Bella Bella, British Columbia. With the community’s recovery efforts undermined by government and Kirby Corporation’s refusal to take responsibility for the spill and to cooperate in its aftermath, the nation says it has no option but to turn to the courts.

“The oil spill continues to be a catastrophic injury to our food sources, culture, and economy,” says Heiltsuk Tribal Council Chief Councillor, Marilyn Slett. “Thanks to Kirby Corporation and the governments of British Columbia and Canada, our community’s road to recovery keeps getting longer and longer.”

The Nathan E. Stewart articulated tug/barge was southbound from Alaska when it ran aground at Edge Reef near Athlone Island on Oct. 13, 2016. (Photo Credit: Western Canada Marine Response Corporation)

Kirby Corporation and government have kept information secret about what occurred on October 13, 2016 when the Nathan E. Stewart grounded, sank and spilled oil into Gale Pass. The Heiltsuk Tribal Council made numerous separate requests for information to the polluter (Kirby Corporation) and various government agencies, including Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board, and the Canadian Coast Guard. Those requests were largely denied or ignored.

The Nation claims this secrecy and lack of collaboration has continued throughout the post-spill recovery.

“Recently, we learned the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Kirby have been secretly negotiating an agreement on the post-spill environmental impact assessment since early this year,” says Chief Councillor Slett. “Since this nightmare began, the polluter and provincial and federal governments have ignored our questions and environmental concerns, our collaboration attempts, and our rights as indigenous people. We have no choice but to turn to the courts.”

The nation is preparing to take legal action, aiming to recover damages suffered by its members as well as to examine the actual state of Canada’s “world class” oil spill response system.

The case will seek compensation for loss of commercial harvesting of marine resources and infringement of Aboriginal rights relating to food, social and ceremonial importance of marine resources — factors that the current oil spill liability framework does not account for.

“When I’m not harvesting Gale Pass to feed my family, I am working there as a commercial fisherman, earning an income to support them – and I’m one of many,” says harvester and volunteer oil spill responder, Robert Johnson. “Despite our reliance on Gale Pass, the governments of British Columbia and Canada and Kirby the polluter have little interest in understanding the impacts of this oil spill on the health of my community, this environment, or our economy.”

The existing oil spill response framework excuses the polluter and government from full responsibility for oil spill impacts on Aboriginal rights otherwise protected by the Constitution.

As such, the government of British Columbia and Kirby are not required by law to do comprehensive impact assessments of the oil spill. To date, they have rejected multiple Heiltsuk requests to participate in a study of the current and long-term impacts of the oil spill on the health of the ecosystem and marine resources and the social and economic consequences associated with the loss of harvest and use of the impacted area.

Instead, Kirby Corporation and the BC Ministry of Environment are proposing a limited environmental assessment covering a minority of the area and species affected.

Heiltsuk Nation will be asking the courts to assess whether this existing regime of liability for oil spills can really be considered constitutional.

“We’re learning the hard way that indigenous people and coastal communities can’t count on polluters, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, or the governments of B.C. and Canada in a crisis situation,” says Kelly Brown, Director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. “For our sake, and the sake of our neighbours, we are consulting with a range of experts to assess damages, recovery times, and, ultimately, determine how we can prevent a similar disaster in the future.”

The Nathan E. Stewart sinking off Bella Bella, British Columbia

Analyses of the oil spill response have revealed massive safety and planning oversights by the polluter and federal and provincial government regulations. They include: a lack of spill response materials; ineffective booms and delays in employing them; a lack of safety instructions and gear for Heiltsuk first responders exposed to diesel and dangerous marine conditions; and confusion over who was in charge in the early hours of the oil spill.

“Government representatives travel the province, country, and the world preaching reconciliation and nation-to-nation relationships with first people. Meanwhile, back home, they are avoiding our calls and emails, excluding us from meetings, and ignoring our rights,” says first responder and Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt. “If the courts have to explain that this is not what nation-to-nation relationships and reconciliation look like, so be it.”

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council expects the results of the various impact assessments, legal analyses, and evaluations to materialize in the coming weeks.

Canada: BC Court Of Appeal Rules That Contaminated Property Must Be Assessed Using Highest and Best Use

Article by Luke Dineley and Jacob Jerome Gehlen

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

In a highly anticipated decision for the valuation of contaminated property in British Columbia, the BC Court of Appeal overturned a decision of the BC Supreme Court and set out how contaminated property should be assessed for tax purposes.

The case involved a Brownfield – a contaminated commercial property with potential for economic redevelopment. The property in question had been operated as a retail gas station, automobile dealership, and repair shop. The soil on the property was contaminated, and the contamination had spread to neighbouring properties. The owner of the property was in considerable financial distress. In addition to tax arrears, legal bills, and accounting bills, she was defending a claim from the owner of a neighbouring property. She therefore arranged to sell the property to this owner through a share purchase agreement for $42,363.24, which was sufficient to cover her debts. She also obtained a full indemnity from any legal liabilities she might have in the future regarding the contamination. The existing structure on the property was renovated and converted into income-producing multi-tenant commercial retail units.

Abbotsford, British Columbia

In 2013, the property was assessed for taxation purposes.

The assessor had valued the land and improvements at $975,000. The property owner, Victory Motors (Abbotsford) Ltd. (“Victory Motors”), appealed, and the Property Assessment Review Panel reduced that assessment to $500,000. Victory Motors appealed to the Property Assessment Appeal Board (“Board”), claiming the property had no value. The Board reinstated the original assessment. The owner appealed again, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. That court found that the Board had erred in law, and remitted the matter to the Board for reconsideration. The Assessor appealed that decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the Assessor’s appeal and restored the Board’s decision.

The issue before the Court was this: how does one properly assess the value of contaminated land for taxation purposes? The assessor determined that because renovation into a two-storey structure would require remediation, the best use of the property was as it currently stood: a one-storey commercial structure. The assessor’s estimate did not otherwise take into account the presence of contamination. Their approach is known as the “income approach,” whereby a property’s value is determined according to the subject property’s highest possible annual net income. The Board agreed with the assessor’s method and ultimate evaluation.

The Supreme Court, however, held that the Board had erred in law. The chambers judge found that the assessor had ignored the property’s brownfield status, which any potential buyer would have in mind as a risk. The chambers judge further held that the land should be valued not according to value for the present owner, but according to the market in accordance with the BCCA’s decision in Southam Inc. (Pacific Newspaper Group Inc,) v. British Columbia (Assessor of Area No 14 – Surrey/White Rock), 2004 BCCA 245 [Southam]. Because there was no evidence a competitive market for the property existed, the Board’s decision was therefore unreasonable.

However, after the BCSC decision was released, a five-judge division of the BCCA overturned Southam in Assessor of Area #01 – Capital v. Nav Canada, 2016 BCCA 71, leave to appeal refused [Nav Canada]. Nav Canada supports the Board’s income-based approach.

Applying Nav Canada, the Court of Appeal allowed the assessor’s appeal and restored the Board’s decision. The Court applied the “highest and best use” principle of assessment, and found that a multi-tenant retail building was the “best use” for the purposes of assessment. The Court held: “that property has value to its current owner can be a sufficient basis on which to determine its value.” In Nav Canada, the BCCA had held that even where there was no other potential purchaser, “one must regard the owner as one of the possible purchasers.” The Court in this case agreed, and held that “when, for whatever reason, there is no market for a property that has value to its owner, that owner can serve as a proxy for a competitive market.”

Going forward, property owners should be aware that even though there are no purchasers lining up to bid for a brownfield, that property may still be assessed at a high value for taxation purposes.

About BLG

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 Authors

Luke Dineley is a partner in both our Insurance and Tort Liability Group and Environmental Law Group in Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Vancouver office. Luke focuses his practice on civil litigation, with an emphasis on insurance and tort law, and environmental law.  In the area of environmental law, Luke’s experience includes representing and advising clients on a wide variety of contaminated site issues relating to both commercial and residential properties — including cost-recovery actions on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants. In addition, Luke has represented and advised major companies on environmental regulatory compliance, emergency spill responses, and environmental prosecutions. Luke is also an executive board member of the British Columbia Environmental Industry Association and frequently publishes and speaks in the area of environmental law.

 

Jacob Jerome Gehlen is an articling student at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Vancouver office. He has a Juris Doctor law degree from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University.

Performance Assessment of Pump and Treat Systems

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Library recently released a paper on the Performance Assessment of Pump-and-Treat Systems.

The pump-and-treat (P&T) remediation technology is comprised of three main aspects:  groundwater extraction for hydraulic control and contaminant removal, above-ground treatment, and groundwater monitoring to assess performance.

Pump-and-treat (P&T) is a widely applied remedy for groundwater remediation at many types of sites for multiple types of contaminants. Decisions regarding major changes in the remediation approach are an important element of environmental remediation management for a site using P&T. Performance assessment during P&T remedy implementation may be needed because of diminishing returns, the complex nature of the site and contamination, or other factors.

While existing guidance documents for the performance assessment of pump-and-treat systems provide information on design, operation, and optimization for P&T systems, these documents do not provide specific technical guidance to support remedy decisions regarding when to transition to a new remedy or to initiate closure of the P&T remedy.

In the paper, the researchers describe a structured approach for P&T performance assessment that was developed  using analysis of three example P&T systems. These examples highlight key aspects of the performance assessment decision logic and represent assessment outcomes associated with optimizing the P&T system, transitioning from P&T to natural attenuation, and supplementing P&T with another technology to hasten transition to natural attenuation.

Decision elements for the P&T performance assessment include:

  • Contaminant concentrations and trends
  • Contaminant mass discharge from source areas or at selected plume locations
  • The attenuation capacity of the aquifer
  • Estimated future plume behavior and time to reach remedial action objectives for the site
  • P&T system design, operational, and cost information

Categories of decision outcomes for the P&T assessment include:

  • Initiate P&T remedy closure
  • Continue with existing or optimized P&T
  • Transition to Monitored Natural Attenuation
  • Supplement P&T with other treatment technologies
  • Transition to a new remedy approach

 

ASL wins pollution response vessel orders

ASL Shipyards in Singapore has won a contract to build three pollution response vessels, whose design leans heavily on escort tug architecture. Western Canada Marine Response Corp ordered the three response vessels to protect Canada’s west coast.

ASL Spill Response Vessel

The vessels will increase offshore spill response capabilities for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. ASL will build these vessels to Robert Allan’s BRAvo 2500 design, which uses elements of the naval architect’s experience in designing escort tugs.

These 25 m vessels will be pollution response platforms custom-designed to meet the formidable environmental conditions and demanding requirements of Canada’s west coast.

They will act as a mothership to other smaller vessels during the response to spills, and be capable of deploying containment equipment, transferring components between vessels, and will store oil in internal tanks or offload oil into barges.

These vessels will have Caterpillar C9.3 main engines and two Caterpillar C4.4 service generator sets. They will be classed by Lloyd’s Register and built to meet Transport Canada requirements.

Robert Allan worked on the design of these vessels, including the use of computational fluid dynamics, since the start of this year. It used its designs for the RAstar series of offshore escort tugs for the hull form and hull sponsons. The vessels will have large bilge keels, twin skegs and a bulbous bow.

For oil containment, they will have Kepner self-inflating offshore booms stored on a large powered reel and a Current Buster 4 sweep system. BRAvo 2500 vessels will have an aft swim platform that allows easy access to the water surface for recovering and deploying equipment with the vessel’s crane.

 

Canada: Remediation of Abandoned Mine Sites in Manitoba will take 24 Years

As reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, abandoned mine sites at Lynn Lake and near Leaf Rapids, Manitoba will need to have their wastewater treatment plants operating for the next 24 years to clean up the contamination.  The estimated cost of the running the plants is $62 million over the time frame.  These assertions can be found in Manitoba’s annual public accounts report.

Mines and other developments across the province have left a trail of contaminants in their wake as their life span ends and only waste and by-products remain behind.

The recently released public accounts report for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017 says Manitoba carries a liability of $281 million to remediate 417 contaminated sites, the worst of them in the province’s north.  The report notes the environmental liability doesn’t include Manitoba Hydro storage sites, which are still being actively used.

The Sherridon mine, located some 100 kilometres from Flin Flon, closed down in 1951, but First Nations people in the area are still suffering the effects and are leery of eating fish and game they need to feed their families, MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said Wednesday.

“Local hunters and the leadership have strong concerns about the tailings they’ve seen in the water, and how it’s affected their hunting and fishing.  They’re seeing the damage it’s doing to the land, they’re seeing the discolouration of the water,” she said to the Winnipeg Free Press.

North Wilson talked earlier this month to Sherridon-area resident Floyd North, whom she described as a man who lives off the land.

“He’s not sure if he should be feeding that to his family. Floyd and local guides have found dead fish, and fish with tailings in their gills. The vegetation along the water is turning brown earlier,” she said.

Two of the province’s top remediation priorities have been closed for more than 50 years: the Gods Lake mine on the north shore of Elk Island closed in 1943, Sherridon stopped operations in 1951, yet from 1976 to 1998, the provincial government was still conducting environmental assessments. Preparation for remediation only really got going in the last decade.

Capped mine shafts and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste rock are all that remain of Lynn Lake’s nickel mine. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC )

“None of this will get cleaned up in my lifetime, and a lot of it cannot be cleaned up. What a legacy of a series of ignorant and negligent governments,” said Eva Pip, retired University of Winnipeg biologist and a renowned expert on water quality and the health of Lake Winnipeg.

The province says mining pumps $2 billion annually into the Manitoba economy and operates in a responsible and environmentally-sound manner — now.

However, there are 149 orphaned and abandoned mines first formally identified in 2000 for remediation “that were abandoned decades ago and continue to pose health and safety problems,” says the province. In some cases, the companies are part of the cleanup.

Pip said she’s been trying to get information for years on the plight of former mine sites and the lakes and rivers around them.

“I see that the number of sites has increased from the last time I requested information, when there were 300-plus identified sites. Many of them are abandoned, where the mining company has walked away, or no longer exists,” Pip said.

“Some are hazardous materials that were put in mine shafts that are now abandoned and flooded. Some are lakes where mining companies were allowed to dump chemical effluent for decades,” such as the Bernic Lake tantalum operation, she said.

Some are arsenic tailings fields going back to the 1930s, said Pip.

“There are also old, underground fuel storage tanks. Some are aboveground fuel storage tanks on northern First Nations reserves. Some are on permafrost. Some are municipal and park landfills that are became defunct when the province so ‘thoughtfully’ privatized landfills. Some are radioactive sites,” such as in Pinawa, Pip said. “There are many many others.”

Sustainable Development is the Progressive Conservative government’s environment ministry, but defers to the department of growth, enterprise and trade on remediating contaminated sites. Manitoba Hydro tracks its own sites.

“Manitoba Hydro does have a number of active sites (such as at Waverley Service Centre), where we dispose of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as per federal legislation to phase out the use PCBs by Dec. 31, 2025. As these continue to be active sites, we have no plans for remediation, as pointed out in the public accounts,” said spokesman Bruce Owen.

However, “It’s important to continue to clean up these sites so that future generations have a safe and sustainable environment. It’s very concerning if this government is letting budget cuts affect our environmental responsibilities,” said NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer.

A Manitoba official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said remediations of the Ruttan site near Leaf Rapids (some 900 km north of Winnipeg) and the former Viridian Inc. mine in Lynn Lake (some 1,000 km north of the provincial capital) are well under way. The province spent $11.8 million on Ruttan last year, $228,000 on the Viridian mine.

The Leaf Rapids remediation cost $76 million between the province and former mine operator Viridian. But public accounts say the water-treatment plant will be needed for a long time yet.

“Manitoba owns a portable water-treatment plant that services the Lynn Lake site and is utilized occasionally to treat water from the site for discharge to bring the water quality up to federal standards,” the provincial official said.

When the Ruttan mine closed in 2002, Manitoba and Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. agreed to share the responsibility, said the province.

“As part of the Ruttan remediation plan, a water-treatment plant was constructed and operates annually during non-freezing conditions to ensure that water discharged from site meets federal water quality guidelines. The requirement for water treatment is expected to decline over time as the remediation takes effect,” said the official.

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: Oil Spill Liability – Kawartha Lakes Continues

By Donna Shier, Partner and Certified Environmental Law Specialist, Joanna Vince, Senior Associate and Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law, Willms & Shier

Background

In the most recent decision in the ongoing Kawartha Lakes saga, the Superior Court of Justice found homeowner Mr. Wayne Gendron partly responsible for an oil spill that destroyed his lakeside property.  The Court also found Mr. Gendron’s fuel distributor liable for a portion of the costs.  This decision serves to warn homeowners that a distributor’s delivery of fuel does not mean that their tanks are safe. It also cautions fuel distributors that they may be liable for spills brought about by a homeowner’s negligence.

The Facts

Thompson Fuels (“Thompson”) supplied 700 liters of fuel oil to two tanks in Mr. Gendron’s basement.  Mr. Gendron had installed the fuel tanks himself without proper shut off valves, contrary to industry standards.

During a period of financial difficulty, Mr. Gendron filled these fuel tanks with less expensive stove oil.  The stove oil introduced water and microbes into the tanks, causing the tanks to corrode.  When Thomspon delivered the fuel oil one of the tanks leaked, spilling approximately 600 liters.

In the hours following the fuel delivery Mr. Gendron tried to manage the spill on his own by collecting what he believed to be all of the leaking oil in Tupperware containers.  Approximately 24 hours later, Mr. Gendron called Thompson to complain that it had not delivered his entire shipment of fuel oil – he was short about 600 liters.  Mr. Gendron never called to report the spill to the MOECC’s Spills Action Centre hotline.

The fuel oil migrated under Mr. Gendron’s house, through the City of Kawartha Lake’s drainage system, and into nearby Sturgeon Lake. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) ordered Mr. Gendron and his wife to “ameliorate the adverse effects caused by the discharge of the furnace oil” and “restore the natural environment… to the extent practicable.”  Mr. Gendron began remediation of the contamination of his property and the contamination of Sturgeon Lake.

Early remediation efforts were complicated by the frozen lake and soil. Mr. Gendron’s personal insurance was rapidly exhausted.  His insurer eventually refused to fund further off-site remediation of Sturgeon Lake.

The remediation efforts cost nearly $2 million  and required the demolition of Mr. Gendron’s home.

Sturgeon Lake, Kawatha Lakes Region, Ontario

The City’s MOECC Order

The MOECC ordered the City of Kawartha Lakes to clean up any fuel oil remaining in the City’s culverts and sewers that could re-contaminate Sturgeon Lake.  The City appealed the order first to the Environmental Review Tribunal, then to the Divisional Court, and ultimately to the Ontario Court of Appeal, losing each time. (See our previous article on the Court of Appeal’s decision here.)

Environmental Protection Act Claims

Using its powers under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”), s. 100.1 the City ordered compensation for its remediation costs from Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (“TSSA”).  Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the TSSA appealed the order to the Environmental Review Tribunal.  Thompson and the TSSA settled with the City and withdrew their appeals.  Mr. Gendron’s appeal was unsuccessful and he was required to pay more than $300,000 of the City’s costs.  Mr. Gendron then brought a claim for contribution and indemnity against Thompson under EPA, s. 100.1(6).  In this most recent case, the Court found that Mr. Gendron could not make out his EPA claim because ownership and control of the fuel oil had transferred to him when the fuel oil was delivered to him by Thompson.  Mr. Gendron’s claim for contribution under the EPA was dismissed.

About the Authors

Donna Shier, Partner & Certified Environmental Law Specialist.  With almost 40 distinguished years of experience practicing environmental law, Donna Shier is one of Canada’s leading environmental counsel to major industrial corporations. Donna is also frequently called upon by corporate, commercial and real estate lawyers to assist their clients with environmental legal issues, and provides environmental law expertise to external litigation counsel. Donna is a qualified mediator and is an accredited member of the ADR Institute of Canada. Donna is called to the bar of Ontario.

Joanna Vince, Senior Associate.  Joanna Vince has significant expertise representing a wide range of clients with environmental issues, civil claims and prosecutions, orders and appeals. Joanna was admitted to the bar of Ontario in 2011.  Joanna has a B.Sc. (Hons., High Distinction) in biology and environmental science, and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. Joanna’s knowledge of and commitment to environmental issues was recognized by the University of Toronto, which awarded her the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Fellowship and the Douglas Pimlott Scholarship. Also at the University of Toronto, Joanna assisted with preparing academic papers and books as a research assistant on wind power, carbon taxes and climate change.

Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law.  Prior to articling at Willms & Shier, Raeya was a summer student at the firm and conducted legal research on issues in environmental, aboriginal, energy, constitutional, administrative, contract, tort, and civil procedure law. She has a Juris Doctor, Certificate in Environmental Law from the University of Toronto, a Masters Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Guelph, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from Queen’s University.

This article was originally published on the Wilms & Shier website.