In the highest fine ever imposed by a court for pollution in violation of the Fisheries Act, Teck Coal Limited has been ordered to pay $60 million for depositing coal mine waste rock leachate into British Columbia’s Elk Valley region’s upper Fording River.
The March 26, 2021 fine relates to events in fall 2012, when leachate from Teck Coal’s Fording River and Greenhills Operations coal mines deposited selenium and calcite into the upper Fording River. The fine equates to $30 million for each operation.
According to a statement from Teck, the Crown will not proceed with charges relating to the same discharges over the period from 2013 to 2019.
“Although there has been mining in the Elk Valley for more than 120 years, it was not until 2010-2012 – through independent research commissioned by Teck – that we began to understand the full extent of the impacts of selenium and calcite releases on water and aquatic health in the valley,” announced Teck CEO Don Lindsay, in a statement to media. “We learned this was an extremely complex challenge connected to the long history of mining in the region, and that it required an extraordinary response,” added Lindsay.
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s laboratory analysis determined that Westslope Cutthroat Trout from the area — a species of concern — contained selenium concentrations at levels that can be linked with adverse effects. Selenium toxicity occurs when it is taken up by organisms at the base of the food web, such as bacteria, algae and fungi.
In Alberta, for instance, the trout were believed to be abundant in some 71 watersheds. As of 2017, they were only found in 31 watersheds.
During the investigation, officers also identified calcite deposits in the upper Fording River and some of its tributaries that had caused a hardening of the riverbeds that can affect the quality of fish habitat.
Following the investigation, enforcement officers had reasonable grounds to believe that Teck Coal Limited had not taken all reasonable measures consistent with public safety, and with the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat as required by s. 38(6) of the Fisheries Act, and that immediate action was necessary to prevent and mitigate any detrimental effects.
In 2013, under direction from the Government of B.C. and in consultation with the Ktunaxa Nation, scientists, and local communities, Teck developed the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan with the goal of stabilizing and reversing the trend of selenium, calcite and other constituents while improving the health of the watershed.
“We’ve undertaken a monitoring program that is tracking water quality and aquatic health in the Elk Valley and we are sharing the results with government, Indigenous Nations and the public,” said Lindsay. “Further, we’ve implemented a major research and development program that is now conducting some of the most advanced mining-related environmental science anywhere in the world.”
Of the record fine, $58 million will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and will be used to support projects that benefit Canada’s natural environment. The remaining $2 million will be directed to the Receiver General.