Sherritt International Corporation pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to three counts of contravening the Fisheries Act. Sherritt was sentenced to pay $1,050,000, of which $990,000 will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. As a result of this conviction, the company's name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.
The Coal Valley Mine, which was owned by Sherritt, from 2001 to 2014, is an open-pit coal mine located 90 km south of Edson, Alberta. On August 3, 2012, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers visited the mine in response to a spill report, and they determined that effluent being deposited from a waste-water pond was deleterious to fish. Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers subsequently issued a direction under the Fisheries Act, which resulted in the deposit being stopped. Further investigation by Environment and Climate Change Canada determined that there were two previous releases of deleterious effluent from waste-water ponds, on July 27, 2011.
The releases went into tributaries of the Athabasca River, including the Erith River portions, which are identified by the Government of Alberta as "ecologically significant habitat" for Athabasca rainbow trout, a species at risk.
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- The waste-water ponds at the Coal Valley Mine collected surface water that was treated with a chemical flocculant to remove suspended sediment before being discharged. Both suspended sediment and an excess of flocculant can be toxic to fish.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act, which prohibit the deposit of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish.
- Created in 1995, the Environmental Damages Fund is a Government of Canada program administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The fund follows the polluter pays principle, and it ensures that court-awarded penalties are used for projects with positive environmental impacts.
- The Environmental Offenders Registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.