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Imperial Oil fined $195,000
Petroleum company pleads guilty to contaminating Mackenzie River

Terrence McEachern
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 19, 2011

Imperial Oil pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a total of $185,000 in Yellowknife Territorial Court on Thursday for depositing a substance harmful to fish and fish habitat in the Mackenzie River in 2009.

The company was fined an additional $10,000 for an unrelated charge.

Imperial Oil Resources NWT Ltd. pleaded guilty to injecting 4,220 litres of the product NALCO 7390, a corrosive inhibitor used to protect piping, into the Mackenzie River between Oct. 3, 2009 and Nov. 2, 2009.

The contamination, which came from the company's central processing facility in Norman Wells, was dumped in a concentration that was "acutely lethal" to fish and fish habitat.

For this offence under the Fisheries Act, Imperial Oil was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay an additional $155,000 to the federal government for conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat in Norman Wells and the Sahtu region of the NWT.

For a second and related offence of violating the conditions of its Type A water licence under the NWT Waters Act, the company was fined an additional $25,000.

According to the agreed facts, the corrosive inhibitor was injected into the water diverted from the Mackenzie River into the plant's cooling heat exchangers. From there, the water flowed into a backwash pond and then back into the Mackenzie River.

Water samples taken between the backwash pond and the river on Oct. 29 showed that the concentration of the substance was 18 milligrams per litre. The concentration deemed safe for fish and fish habitat is 1.2 milligrams per litre, said Crown prosecutor Danielle Vaillancourt.

Defence lawyer Peter Miller explained that once Imperial Oil's operations staff received the test results, the water flow back into the Mackenzie River was closed, thereby keeping the contaminated water in the backwash pond. The company then notified the Sahtu Land and Water Board and Indian and Northern Affairs, now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, of the situation.

Miller said the reason for the high readings was that a company employee mixed up the product injected into the water with a different Nalco product, which resulted in the wrong concentration being dispersed into the water system.

Imperial Oil Canada also pleaded guilty to another charge under the Fisheries Act and was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $9,000 for the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat when the company was caught on Sept. 16, 2010 with two minnow traps and two nets strung across Bosworth Creek while it was conducting a fish and fish habitat sampling and a surface quality water project without a scientific licence to fish.

Vaillancourt stayed three charges under the Fisheries Act against the company conducting the project - Worley Parsons Canada Services Ltd. Vaillancourt also dropped two additional charges against Imperial Oil and six more against Imperial Oil Resources NWT Ltd. All eight charges against Nalco Canada were stayed.

Vaillancourt said no dying or dead fish were observed as a result of the contamination, and that Imperial Oil co-operated with the investigation in all instances.

Judge Robert Gorin accepted the joint submission. Although he accepted Miller's explanation that the incidents weren't the result of recklessness but rather "oversights and mistakes," he still warned Miller that the consequences could have been disastrous.

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