News Articles | MIKE DE SOUZA | POSTMEDIA NEWS | January 26, 2013
OTTAWA – The federal government has given warning letters to several oil, gas and pipeline companies across the country instead of trying to prosecute them for alleged transgressions that include polluting air and water, inadequate emergency planning and sloppy record-keeping.
Environment Canada sent the written warnings, released to Postmedia News under access to information legislation, to a range of companies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
The warnings include letters to oilsands producer Devon Canada, and to Gibson Energy – a midstream company that manages pipelines and other related infrastructure – alleging that two separate oil spills at their respective facilities in 2010 were in violation of the federal Fisheries Act.
The violations are punishable by fines of up to $1 million or imprisonment of up to three years, said the warning letters.
Both companies said they had addressed the concerns raised in the letters, but Environment Canada also called out several other companies in writing, for failures to implement and test emergency plans and failures to properly report and identify the storage or management of regulated petroleum products.
Letters were also sent to several gasoline service stations in Quebec, alleging that their gas pumps are not meeting standards to prevent toxic air pollution when motorists filled up their tanks, an offence that is also punishable by up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to $1 million.
The department told Postmedia News that written warnings, instead of charges, have been successful in getting industries to correct problems, as opposed to costly and lengthy prosecutions that could take years to settle in court.
“Our goal isn’t to prosecute for the sake of prosecuting (or) make the numbers look good in that sense,” said Heather McCready, a manager from the enforcement branch of Environment Canada. “Our goal is to bring people into compliance as quickly as possible.
“It’s about protecting the environment. It’s not about racking up points. So a warning letter can be a very effective tool to do that.”
But Parliament’s environment watchdog, Scott Vaughan, disputed those claims in his last investigation of enforcement actions. His analysis found that the department didn’t know which enforcement measures were most effective since it wasn’t adequately tracking cases or following up with companies about violations.
“Warning letters can work. There’s absolutely no doubt (about that),” Vaughan told Postmedia News. “(But) you need to go back and figure out if the problem has been fixed.”
Overall, Environment Canada’s enforcement branch sent out 606 warning letters in 2010-2011 in all categories of the regulations it oversees, according to the latest annual report released on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In the same year, the department said it recorded 26 cases that involved prosecutions, 114 incidents that resulted in charges and 37 cases that concluded with convictions.
Environment Minister Peter Kent is expected to table the 2011-2012 report in the coming weeks.
The department has previously indicated that dry-cleaning operators, which drew 173 warnings and 22 convictions in the 2010-2011 year, are also a challenge because of the high turnover rates in ownership and operators’ inexperience with the disposal of toxic substances.
Pulp and paper mills were also subject to dozens of inspections verifying their handling of some toxic substances, but those did not result in any enforcement actions, according to the reported figures from 2010-2011.
Environment Canada also reported that more than 100 warning letters were sent out specifically on oil or gas related cases in the same year, most of which were related to storage tank systems for petroleum products.
Department officials initially declined to answer questions about the nature of its warning letters in July 2012, prompting Postmedia News to make multiple requests for the records related to the oil and gas industry using federal access to information legislation.
At that time, the department was pursuing millions of dollars in budget cuts, including funding cuts for scientists who helped enforcement officers measure pollution and test for compliance with existing laws and regulations.
The Harper government also replaced the country’s main environmental protection law last summer with legislation that reduced federal oversight in assessing industrial development, while strengthening provisions to crack down on companies that didn’t respect conditions imposed on projects by the government.
Environment Canada took about five months to process the access to information requests and release its warning letters.
Some of the other letters included warnings to an aviation fuel distributor in Quebec, Avjet Holding/Petro T, as well as a letter to Gator Propane Services, based in Saskatchewan, highlighting record-keeping problems such as failures to file reports, to properly identify regulated substances or to establish and test emergency plans.
The main oil and gas industry lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, told Postmedia News enforcement measures by federal and provincial governments are geared toward compliance by focusing on the greatest risks.
CAPP spokesman Travis Davies said the association supported this “compliance oriented approach,” comparing it to the model used by police for traffic violations. He said that this approach could involve warnings as well as shut-downs or other serious penalties when warranted.
Vaughan, the federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, said that the government has recently made some improvements to existing laws to allow enforcement officers to issue fines in some cases, but he said it doesn’t mean they have the capacity to crack down on environmental criminals.
In a 2011 audit, Vaughan concluded that inspectors needed special training to enforce 30 existing regulations on toxic substances but did not have this training for 16 of the listed substances and were lacking some critical laboratory facilities required to do their jobs.
“There are some big gaps,” said Vaughan. “Putting more money into something in itself doesn’t necessarily make it fixed. So we said you have some pretty big gaps and you need to fix those gaps.”
Environment Canada said it has completed new training for seven of what it considered to be the highest priority regulations, but was still addressing others “as part of future training development,” wrote spokesman Mark Johnson in an email.
Vaughan said he found it reassuring that the government was beginning to address his recommendations, noting that the enforcement branch is ultimately protecting public health.
“There are some nasty stuff that these regulations (are intended to control) – asbestos, dioxins and furans – things that have been listed as toxic,” Vaughan said. “They harm human health, they potentially cause cancer and so the regulations are there. Having a regulation on paper only goes so far and you need inspectors and you need a system to go in to make sure they have the full force of the law.”
Summaries of some recent warning letters to oil, gas and pipeline companies, listed in chronological order.
Based in Calgary. Violation of Fisheries Act following well failure and bitumen leak caused by human factors. Warning letter dated March 10, 2011 following investigation of leak that occurred on July 10 and 11, 2010
Pipeline Management Inc.
Based in Calgary. Various allegations, including failure to notify Environment Canada about managing regulated substances, providing incorrect address for storage of regulated substance, failing to test an emergency plan, providing Environment Canada “with false or misleading information” about conducting its emergency plan. Warning letter dated June 9, 2010 following inspection on May 11.
Gibson Energy ULC
Based in Calgary. Failure to test emergency plan at facility with butane and propane at Edmonton facility. Warning letter dated June 10, 2010, following inspection on May 11.
Keyera Energy Management
Based in Calgary. Failure to test emergency plan at West Pembina Gas Plant. Warning letter dated June 23, 2010 following inspection on June 1
Petroles Porliers Inc.
Based in Sept.-Iles, Que. Transferring petroleum products into a reservoir that with improper visible indentification. No emergency plan, failure to properly inspect facility. Two warning letters dated Sept. 17, 2010 following inspection on Aug. 26, 2010.
Avjet Holding Inc./Petro T
Based in Drummondville, Que. The aviation fuel distribution company allegedly failed to properly identify petroleum products stocks on site and failed to prepare an emergency response plan. Warning letter dated Dec. 14, 2010 following inspection on Nov. 17, 2010.
Based in Edmonton. Missed deadline for filing of quarterly report required under Sulphur-in-Diesel-Fuel Regulations. Warning letter sent on Jan. 4, 2011
Environmental Refuelling Systems Inc.
Based in Edmonton. Incomplete reporting required under Sulphur-in-Diesel-Fuel Regulations. Warning letter sent on Nov. 1, 2011
Harvest Operations Corp.
Based in Calgary. Failure to test emergency plan in three separate years and some out-of-date information submitted to Environment Canada. Warning letter sent on Dec. 6, 2011, following inspection on Aug. 18, 2011.
Baker Hughes Canada Company
Based in Calgary. Failure to test emergency plan in three separate years and some out-of-date information submitted to Environment Canada. Warning letter sent on Dec. 6, 2011, following inspection on Sept. 21, 2011.
Based in Calgary. Failure to test emergency plan in four separate years and some out of date information submitted to Environment Canada. Warning letter sent on Dec. 6, 2011 following inspection on Sept. 28, 2011.
Restaurant La Belle Québécoise/Petrole Irving
Based in Sainte-Anne-du-Sault, Que. Gasoline service station with gas pumps exceeding 38 litres-per-minute flow rate, linked to smog-causing toxic pollution. Warning letter sent on Dec. 22, 2011 following inspection on Sept. 29, 2011.
Based in Drummondville, Que. Gasoline service station with gas pumps exceeding 38 litres-per-minute flow rate, linked to smog-causing toxic pollution. Warning letter sent on Dec. 22, 2011 following inspection on Sept. 30, 2011.
Transport Jacques Auger, Inc.
Based in Levis, Que. Inadequate identification of regulated petroleum products at Sept-Iles airport hangar. Warning letter sent on Dec. 22, 2011, following inspection on Oct. 25 and 26, 2011.
4364945 Canada Inc.
Based in Pointe Lebel, Que. Gasoline service station with gas pumps exceeding 38 litres-per-minute flow rate, linked to smog-causing toxic pollution. Warning letter sent on Dec. 8, 2011 following inspection on Oct. 27, 2011
Gibson Energy ULC
Based in Calgary, Alta. Allegedly was not duly diligent to prevent a release of sweet crude oil into fish habitat in Edmonton, violating the Fisheries Act. Warning letter sent on Jan. 22, 2011 following investigation of leak that occurred on Sept 23, 2010.
Gator Propane Services
Based in Martensville, Sask. Failure to enforce various administrative rules, emergency plan, missed deadlines for submitting mandatory reports. Warning letter sent on May 3, 2012 following Jan. 17, 2012 inspection.
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