B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office says it’s still considering nearly a dozen administrative penalties against the Coastal GasLink pipeline after issuing its heftiest fine so far to the project last month.
The recent fine, for $340,000, was a result of the project’s ongoing issues with erosion and sediment control.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Environment on Sept. 21, the province said EAO compliance and enforcement officers identified the issues during four days of inspections in April and May 2022.
The environmental regulator also issued another, smaller fine of $6,000. The second penalty was for providing “false and misleading information” about maintenance inspection records last October, the province said. The company described the reporting discrepancy as an “unintentional and regrettable error.”
The two recent fines bring the number of penalties issued against the project to five, with a monetary total of more than $800,000. It’s likely that number will continue to grow as the EAO works its way through another 11 penalty recommendations that are still under consideration from the past year.
“Decision making for such penalties is a complex legal process and takes time to consider and ensure proper due diligence,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email. While some penalty recommendations may not be approved, there’s also the potential for multiple recommendations to be combined under one penalty, the EAO has explained.
While the company has said it expects to complete pipeline construction this year, that won’t prevent future fines from being issued.
“There is no legislated or policy deadline to complete the penalties and penalties may be assessed after project construction is completed,” the ministry said.
Coastal GasLink responded to the new fines by saying it had “promptly addressed” the erosion and sediment-control issues identified a year and a half ago.
But the issues, which were first identified in 2020, have persisted.
Last year, B.C. signed a compliance agreement with the company in an attempt to resolve the issues, which have been identified in every section of the 670-kilometre pipeline route.
The first order under the agreement came last October, setting off a series of conflicting statements between the company and the regulator over whether the project was out of compliance in the Anzac River valley north of Prince George and whether work was required to stop.
Work did, briefly, stop. But it quickly resumed once the company determined the project had been brought back into compliance.
Escalating enforcement under the compliance agreement led the EAO to begin requiring an on-site visit by its compliance and enforcement officers before work was allowed to resume, the regulator said.
Since then, the project has faced a dozen stop-work orders for erosion and sediment control in the Anzac and Morice river valleys. All were issued during wet weather and spring run-off conditions this past May. Work remained suspended in some areas well into July.
The EAO previously said it had observed improved compliance under the agreement with Coastal GasLink. But that may be tested as B.C. heads into the fall and, likely, wetter weather.
“EAO’s officers increase the frequency of inspections during high-risk periods such as the rainy season,” a spokesperson said. “Given ongoing compliance concerns, the CGL project continues to be the highest priority for the EAO’s compliance and enforcement team.”
In a recent project update, Coastal GasLink said it expects that erosion and sediment control measures will be needed for “a few years” beyond project completion.