Sherritt International fined $1 million for coal mine spills in Canada

Athabasca River. Photo by Margaret Anderso, Wikimedia Commons.

Environment and Climate Change Canada informed that Sherritt International Corp. (TSX:S) has agreed to pay a fine of $1 million after pleading guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to three counts of contravening the Fisheries Act.

The violations, for which the Toronto-based company was charged five years ago, occurred at the open-pit Coal Valley Mine, located 90 kilometres south of Edson. The mine was owned by Sherritt from 2001 to 2014 and by the end of that period, specifically between 2011 and 2012, three spills of potentially harmful wastewater took place; half a million litres of such effluent leaked into a tributary of the Erith River, part of the Athabasca River watershed.

Those tributaries are identified by the Government of Alberta as “ecologically significant habitat” for Athabasca rainbow trout, a species at risk.

In detail, the wastewater contained potentially toxic levels of the chemical flocculant which was added to it to remove sediments before being discharged into the river system. On August 3, 2012, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers visited the site after being alerted of a spill. Following this visit, they issued a direction under the Fisheries Act, which resulted in the deposit being stopped. Further investigations determined that there were two previous releases of deleterious effluent from wastewater ponds.

According to the federal ministry, Sherritt was sentenced to pay $1,050,000 of which $990,000 will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. Also, as a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

The hefty fine is considered a deterrent for any corporation, the counsel with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Erin Eacott, told the CBC. And Sherritt’s lawyer, Brad Gilmour, seemed to agree: “This is not a slap on the wrist,” he said to the public broadcaster.