Oilsands company Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) has been charged for allegedly releasing a toxic substance and failing to report it.
On May 14, 2012 Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) laid charges against CNRL for allegedly releasing hydrogen sulphide gas into the environment and failing to immediately report it. This is not the first time CNRL has been charged for an alleged environment offence, but it is the first time the company is going to court over it.
Marc Huot, oilsands policy analyst at energy think-tank Pembina Institute, said it’s not unheard of for an oilsands company to wind up in court over environmental charges, but in most cases, they are simply fined. CNRL was fined $22,500 in August 2011 and $12,500 in December 2010 for exceeding sulphur dioxide limits at Horizon and at Primrose thermal oilsands and heavy oil operation, respectively. The company was charged with failing to immediately report both incidents.
“It seems a bit different (this time) just because they’re taking them to court. But the problem is, the only information we’ve ever heard about this whole thing is they had a release at potentially dangerous levels and they failed to report it,” Huot said.
The current charges relate to a May 2010 incident in which CNRL’s Horizon Oil Sands facility 70 km north of Fort McMurray allegedly released hydrogen sulphide gas into the environment. Hydrogen sulphide gas is produced during the bitumen upgrading process and can be fatal at certain levels.
CNRL faces three charges under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act – releasing a substance into the environment that causes or may cause a significant adverse effect; failing to report the incident as soon as it knows or ought to know of the release; and, failing to report the release of the substance immediately on becoming aware of it.
ESRD told Northern Journal it was unable to comment further on the specifics of the incident because it is now before the courts. CNRL likewise refused to comment further for the same reason.
CNRL’s first court appearance is set for July 11 at the Fort McMurray Provincial Court.