A series of environmental infractions, including a failure to build an active water treatment facility on schedule, have added up to more than $16 million in fines for Teck Coal Ltd., according to British Columbia’s natural resources compliance and enforcement database.
The B.C. government noted that nearly $15.5 million of the late January fines is related to the mining company’s failure to get its Fording River south water treatment facility operational by the December 2018 deadline in its permit.
The company attributed delays to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other logistical challenges.
It is just one of four water treatment facilities that serve the mining company’s Elk Valley region. A major goal of the company’s water quality plan is to stabilize and reverse the trend of selenium and calcite pollution, which can be harmful to fish populations. Now operational, the Fording River facility treats up to 20 million litres of water per day.
Subscribe to our Newsletter!
The latest environmental engineering news direct to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.
The facility treats effluent from the Swift, Cataract and Kilmarnock Creeks, which are all tributaries of the upper Fording River.
In its decision document, a B.C. Ministry of Environment official stated: “After considering the relevant submissions, I conclude that the nature of the contravention is major. The contravention results in a threat to the integrity of the environment and undermines the basic integrity of the overarching regulatory regime and significantly interferes with the Ministry’s capacity to protect and conserve the natural environment.”
Last month, Teck Resources was fined $2.2 million for an acid spill into the Columbia River at the company’s Trail smelter operations.
Teck Coal was also fined a record $60 million in March 2021 for releasing selenium and calcite into the upper Fording River from its coal mines.
Teck Coal’s fourth water treatment facility on the mining property, the Fording River North Saturated Rock Fill, is currently being commissioned, with expected initial capacity to treat up to 9.5 million litres of water per day, the company reports.
In its final determination, the ministry official goes on to state: “Teck’s mining operations in ʔakisq̓nuk Ktunaxa represent a significant cross-boundary contamination issue. It is my understanding that our neighbours in the United States are concerned with the status quo of water quality entering their jurisdiction from Teck’s four remaining active mines and are concerned about Teck’s progress respecting mitigations.”
In correspondence with the ministry, Teck responded that it worked “to bring the facility into operation as soon as safely possible, expending more than triple the cost as originally estimated. Teck Coal has also undertaken substantial efforts to develop other treatment technologies, but not as short- term concurrent alternatives to the [active water treatment facility] in the Fording River, but as part of the long-term regional approach contemplated by the permit.”
As part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, Teck is researching and implementing methods to control selenium and nitrate release at the source, such as geo-synthetic membrane covers to reduce contamination.
The company was also fined for nitrate and selenium exceedances, according to the compliance and enforcement database. These occurred at Teck operations near Sparwood, B.C., between 2019 and 2021. The amount of excess selenium was between 4% – 25% above the provincially-authorized limit. These fines total nearly $1.1 million.