De Beers Canada is facing a minimum $100,000 fine for an alleged environmental breach after diesel was spilled at the site of its former Snap Lake mine in 2017.
The diamond corporation has been charged under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, as earlier reported by the CBC, for allegedly contravening petroleum storage tank regulations by allowing the release of liquid petroleum into the environment from a storage tank system.
Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane told the territorial court on Tuesday this is a case of “some significance” as it’s the first time the prosecution service is aware of anyone being charged under amendments to those regulations, which came into effect in late October 2020.
Under the Environmental Protection Act, as De Beers is an international corporation and not a small revenue corporation, it’s facing a fine of between $100,000 and $4 million for the charge. Second and subsequent offences carry a fine of between $200,000 and $8 million.
A spill report from De Beers indicates that at around 1pm on December 7, 2017, a spill was discovered at a Snap Lake day tank that had been left to gravity fill. According to the report, the attendant had forgotten to close the tank’s outlet valve as the crew was preparing for a shift change. They had worked late the previous night restoring power following an outage.
At the time, the spill was estimated to be at least 500 litres of diesel, which De Beers reported to the territory’s spill line. During cleanup, however, it was discovered that an estimated 5,903 litres of diesel had been released into the environment after overflowing the containment berm.
According to De Beers, around 7,500 litres of reusable diesel was immediately recovered from the containment. An additional 1,500 litres of contaminated diesel was pumped into totes. Four drums of contaminated ground were removed during followup cleaning.
An incident investigation by De Beers determined the root cause of the spill was a failure to identify the risk of manual refuelling between a utility tank and the day tank, a process which used to be automated when the mine was in operation.
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.
De Beers’ next court appearance on the charge has been scheduled for September 28.