On October 5, 2017 Teck Coal Limited (“Teck”) in British Columbia court pled guilty to three counts of contravening the Fisheries Act for discharging a deleterious substance, namely selenium, into a tributary of the Elk River frequented by fish.
On October 16, 2014, approximately 45 dead fish were discovered in Line Creek which is located near one of Teck’s coal mines in the region. The day after the discovery of the dead fish Environment Canada investigators discovered that waste water from Teck’s water treatment plant was directly entering Line Creek.
The water treatment plant was constructed to specifically deal with selenium pollution. Selenium, while naturally occurring can be harmful in small amounts and is a produced by coal, uranium and bitumen extraction. The approximately $600 million water treatment plant had only been in operation for a period of four months when the discharge occurred. The purpose of the water treatment plant was to resolve concerns associated with the high selenium levels being discharged into the creek resulting in fish deformities in cutthroat trout. Selenium is becoming a contaminant of increasing concern in Canada.
Teck’s Line Creek Operation is situated 25 kilometers north of Sparwood in southeastern British Columbia. Line Creek is identified by the British Columbia government as part of a “Classified Water System.” This classification means that the water system is viewed by the province as having high fisheries value and requires special fishing licenses.
The British Columbia Court directed that the penalty of $1,425,000 be directed to the Environment Damages Fund and used for the conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat or the restoration of fish habitat in the East Kootenay Region of British Columbia. Teck was also required to post information regarding the conviction on its website and the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.
It should be noted that is not the first time that Teck has been subject to significant fines for discharging substances in a watercourse. In February 2016, Teck Metals Limited pled guilty to a number of charges relating to discharging a deleterious substance into waters frequented by fish and was fined $3 million for violations of the Fisheries Act and an additional $400,000 for offences under the British Columbia Environmental Management Act.