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Just as we predicted after R. v. Castonguay, the Ministry of the Environment is aggressively prosecuting in new areas of the economy, for not reporting events that are far from conventional “pollution”. This time, it was a natural gas leak.

Three Ontario companies were fined $17,500­­­­­­­­ for failing to report a discharge of natural gas into the environment, contrary to the Environmental Protection Act.

A natural gas line release occurred during an excavation at a private residence located in Belleville. D. Koets Plumbing and Heating LTD from Brighton was the general contractor, and Scaletta Sand and Gravel Limited from Trenton was the sub-contractor and provided the backhoe and operator. Union Gas Limited is the owner of the infrastructure and the product, natural gas, which was affected by the release.

During an excavation at the private residence, a rock fell from the backhoe bucket and struck the natural gas line cutting it open. Union Gas was contacted and had the gas shut off. The police and fire department responded to the scene and a number of residences were evacuated in the area. Ministry staff learned of the gas release from a Belleville paper and later confirmed that the natural gas release had not been reported to the ministry by any of the above three parties.

Union Gas Limited was fined $7,500 plus a victim fine surcharge of $1,875 and was given 3 months to pay the fine. The other two companies were each fined $5,000 for a total of $10,000 plus victim fine surcharges totalling $2,500, and were given 6 months to pay the fines.

As in Castonguay, the case report gives no evidence that the MOE would have had anything useful to contribute to the response to the incident, if it had received a report. Nor that the natural gas caused any adverse effect, such as air or water pollution. Nor that the MOE had, in advance, approached the natural gas industry to tell them that it now wanted to receive reports of the many leaks that occur each year. The only safe advice now: report everything!

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