North 60 Petroleum Ltd. must build a cement wall in the Yukon River and pay $30,000 for allowing oil to leak into the waterway for the past 13 years, the territorial court ruled last Friday.
The oil distributor received a severe warning in 2006 about hydrocarbons seeping into the river but did not follow government orders to clean it up.
“Some of it is leaks, some of it is accidents,” said Wade Comin, a senior environmental enforcement officer with Environment Canada, and the lead investigator on the North 60 case since 2006.
In 1997, Environment Canada officials discovered a major discharge of hydrocarbons into the river, home to many species of fish, including salmon.
“They noticed a rusty-coloured sheen coming out of the banks at North 60,” said Comin.
The oil was leaking from the site into the groundwater, then into the river.
North 60 was told to build a ditch to contain the oil, then pump the liquid off the site.
But Environment Canada soon got wind that the system was only being used half the year.
“And even in the summer, it wasn’t operating all the time,” said Comin. “There were a lot of malfunctions.”
So in 2006, an inspector’s direction was issued.
North 60 has to stop leaking hydrocarbons into a fish-bearing river, it said.
But after three years, the direction was largely ignored.
The direction demanded a report on the leak be completed. It was never written.
So federal officials laid charges under the Fisheries Act in April 2009 for failure to comply with an inspector’s direction.
The Yukon Court decided on Friday that North 60 be fined and that it must implement a clean-up plan outlined in a 300-page report completed after the charges were laid.
Of the $30,000 North 60 must pay out, $2,000 is a direct fine that goes to the territorial court.
The other $28,000 goes to the environmental damages fund.
The court ruled that the money going into the fund - which is managed by the federal government - go to programs aimed at preserving fish habitat in the Yukon.
North 60 could have been fined up to $200,000, but the completion of the report and other factors softened the blow.
“They’ve already spent millions of dollars on cleaning it up,” said Comin.
“And they will spend millions more cleaning up the rest,” he said.
To stop the leak, North 60 has to build what’s called a coffer dam.
Its length is yet to be determined, but it might be as long as 200 metres, said Comin.
The dam will sit in the actual river, and North 60 will dig up all the soil on the property and replace it with new soil while the dam is standing.
The dirty soil will then be run through a land treatment process on-site.
North 60’s site, situated deep in Whitehorse’s industrial area, was once home to an Imperial Oil refinery.
“That site has a lot of history,” said Comin.
The remnants of that facility stretch three kilometres, from the former oil tank farm west of the Alaska Highway right down to the Yukon River.
The Yukon government is managing the cleanup of the tank farm site.
And it’s just signed a joint agreement with Ottawa to clean up the Marwell tar pit, where waste from the refinery was once dumped.
North 60’s site on the river also used to be a refuelling station for boats.
But under federal law, the current land owner takes responsibility, said Comin.
Environment Canada does not know how much oil leaked into the river, he said.
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org