De Beers must pay $350,000 after being prosecuted over a diesel spill at its now-defunct Snap Lake diamond mine in December 2017.
Environment and Climate Change Canada, heralding Monday’s sentence, said the money will be placed in a fund that supports “projects that benefit the natural environment.”
De Beers was charged under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, a prosecution considered significant as one of the first since the act’s regulations were amended in 2020.
Environment and Climate Change Canada said on Monday that up to 1,125 litres of diesel had spilled during a fuel transfer between two above-ground storage tanks at the mine.
However, a spill report from De Beers at the time suggested around five times that quantity of diesel had spilled. According to that report, an attendant had forgotten to close a tank outlet valve ahead of a shift change while trying to move diesel from one tank to another. The attendant had worked late the previous night restoring power following an outage.
During cleanup, the spill report stated, staff discovered an estimated 5,903 litres of diesel had been released into the environment after overflowing the containment berm.
Under the Environmental Protection Act, De Beers faced a fine of between $100,000 and $4 million.
Following the spill, De Beers told the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board it had reviewed work procedures and training with staff, told the site crew not to start refuelling until crew changes were complete, and reviewed risk assessments and critical controls for winter camp conditions.
On Monday, the federal government stated: “As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry. The registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.
“The government enforces laws that protect Canada’s air, water, and natural environment and we take this responsibility very seriously.”
In a statement to Cabin Radio, De Beers wrote: “We understand our duties as visitors where we work and are committed to being responsible and respectful, honouring our hosts and safeguarding the lands and waters. Our top priorities are the health and safety of local communities, personnel, and protection of the environment.
“From the outset we took full responsibility for this regrettable incident, including immediately reporting, containing and cleaning the spill. Throughout the investigation we have cooperated fully with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Crown prosecutor’s office in order to resolve this matter. In court today we have accepted that responsibility and agreed to a financial penalty.
“The agreed statement of facts with the Crown confirms that there was no environmental damage caused by the spill and no further risk to the environment, as confirmed by both the Northwest Territories government inspector and studies by an independent third party, Golder Associates. It is also important to note that the scale of this incident was small: the amount of diesel released from containment was equivalent to the amount of oil found in a standard home heating oil tank.”
De Beers stated long-term monitoring had not detected fuel in Snap Lake or any other nearby water body.
“With the mine now in the first phase of closure, we are focused on full remediation of the site of the incident, as well as the rehabilitation of all areas of the mine,” the statement continued.
“While no negative environmental impacts occurred, we know that honouring our commitment as a responsible company means continuously improving and strengthening our practices, and this is what we are committed to doing.”