Coastal GasLink has been ordered to pay its second fine in less than three months for environmental violations along its 670-kilometer pipeline route currently under construction through Northern BC
The $170,100 fine comes as a result of inspections conducted along the pipelines’ route in October, a year after the company’s problems with erosion and sediment control were first noted by investigators from the provincial Environmental Audit Office.
In collecting the fine, the EAO found that the company’s ongoing violations resulted in significant “adverse impacts on water quality, wetlands and fish habitat, and potentially adverse impacts on fish and other aquatic life.”
They may also have violated the rights of indigenous nations, it said.
Although First Nation councils have signed agreements with the company along the pipelines’ route, Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary leadership remains firmly opposed to the project, and recent conflict has centered on the company’s plans, also known by the Morice River as Wedzin Kwa, to drill .
The regulator found that Coastal GasLink failed to stabilize exposed soil or implement adequate erosion control measures at 20 sites it inspected along the pipelines’ route, allowing sediment to flow into fish-bearing streams, lakes and wetlands. The resulting potential for impacts on fish and fish habitats has been raised as a concern by the Wet’suwet’en Office for more than a decade.
In an email to The Tyee, a spokesman for Coastal GasLink said the company is committed to “safe and environmentally responsible” pipeline construction and recognizes that “protecting the environment is a fundamental value for our Indigenous and Northern community partners and all British is Columbian”.
Coastal GasLink’s statement said it took immediate action to address the issues and will “continue to work with the EAO and all other regulators to meet their requirements.”
The recently announced penalty follows a $72,500 fine imposed on the company in February for similar violations.
After first reporting the issues in October 2020, the EAO issued an executive order requiring the company to control sediment flowing in waterways and hire an independent auditor for erosion and sediment control. Subsequent warnings and penalties were issued based on this original order.
“The regulation was written to direct CGL to control the risk of sediment transport to environmentally sensitive receptors by stabilizing exposed surface material, installing erosion and sediment control measures and ensuring that the measures continue to function as intended,” the EAO said in its recent sentencing.
“Failure to meet the requirements of Enforcement Regulation EN2020-011 resulted in observed adverse impacts on water quality, wetlands and fish habitat, as well as potentially adverse impacts on fish and other aquatic life.”
In summary, the most recent EAO decision found that project inspections in April and May last year had resulted in the first administrative penalty, imposed in February.
The company was also cited last month for allowing sediment-laden water to flow into streams at the western end of its route near Kitimat.
The EAO’s most recent finding, dated May 2, said the pipeline company failed to bring its project into compliance with its environmental certificate by October and imposed the new fine for again violating the original order. “From October 14, 2021 to October 21, 2021, the EAO conducted an inspection of the project against the requirements of the EAC and the Order,” it said.
A first draft notice of the fine, presented to Coastal GasLink on March 10, will not be released “to ensure procedural fairness,” an Environment Department spokesman said.
However, in a company response to the EAO later that month, Coastal GasLink said it had addressed the orders issued in October 2021 by correcting issues “where possible” and that it “continues to devote significant resources to the ongoing ESC.” to tackle [erosion and sediment control] problems throughout the project.”
The company called the erosion and sediment control issues “the most important compliance issue it is currently working on with its prime contractors.”
In the email reply to The Tyee, the company noted the complexity of the project, saying it has “some of the most stringent regulatory requirements in the world”. It added that the scale of the project, the terrain it traverses and changing weather conditions have created challenges.
“Erosion and sediment control is an ever-changing challenge,” the company said. “We are adapting over time and are actively evaluating sites along the project that require attention and are working to ensure erosion and sediment control are appropriately managed.”
For the first time since Coastal GasLink’s environmental violations were identified a year and a half ago, the provincial government acknowledged the violations by issuing a press release regarding recent fines and noting that more than 40 inspections have been conducted along the route since the pipeline was constructed started in 2019 and resulted in 37 warnings, 16 orders and the most recent two penalties.
“The EAO takes compliance with the requirements of all environmental reports very seriously,” it said.
The BC NDP government has championed the Coastal GasLink project, noting in recent press releases that the pipeline and associated LNG Canada project will create up to 10,000 construction jobs during the construction phase and that Coastal GasLink “has received all necessary permits.” for the work currently in progress. ”
The two fines imposed on Coastal GasLink this year are a first for any organization or company holding a provincial environmental assessment certificate, a spokesman for BC’s Department of the Environment said in an email to The Tyee.
“The Environmental Auditing Act 2018 gave the EAO enhanced powers and tools for compliance and enforcement activities to ensure that a certificate’s legally binding requirements are met throughout the life of the project,” the ministry said. Ongoing monitoring ensures projects are designed, constructed, operated and decommissioned in accordance with the province’s requirements, it said.
The EAO described potential adverse impacts from the violations as “high” and said they had resulted in adverse impacts on the environment and “may also have resulted in adverse impacts on the rights and interests of indigenous nations”.
It also noted that the EAO’s conclusions “reflect concerns expressed by indigenous nations about adverse impacts on fish and fish habitats, water quality and wetland function as a result of the project”.
“Failure to meet the requirements of Enforcement Regulation EN2020-011 has resulted in observed adverse impacts on water quality, wetlands and fish habitat, as well as potentially adverse impacts on fish and other aquatic life,” she concluded. “The significance of these impacts is not fully understood as they have occurred over a large geographical area and over an extended period of time without quantitative measurement of the adverse impacts.”
In calculating the fine, the province used a base fine of $72,500, added $22,000 for Coastal GasLink’s history of compliance and repeat violations, and also applied a “daily multiplier” of $75,600, which charged a fee for each day which various sites were not compliant.
The fine comes on top of the February fine the company had already paid, the Environment Ministry confirmed.
Coastal GasLink has 30 days to pay the final penalty.