British Columbia

Coastal GasLink warned more than 50 times over environmental violations during pipeline construction

Coastal GasLink's pipeline construction has been flagged for environmental violations, including repeated failures to protect senstive watersheds and wetlands in parts of northern B.C.

Many warnings relate to failure to protect sensitive waterways from sediment, erosion on 670-km pipeline route

Cracks are seen in dry soil with a green pipe to the right of it.
A photo taken by a B.C. government inspector at a Coastal GasLink pipeline right of way in April 2022 shows soil erosion that violates the conditions of the company's environmental permit. An EAO white stamp in the top left corner indicates the location and time the photo was taken. (Submitted by Ministry of Environment and Climate Change)

Coastal GasLink has now been warned more than 50 times about environmental violations during construction of its natural gas pipeline across northern British Columbia, according to the province. 

In an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said it had issued a total of 51 warnings, 16 orders, and levied two fines — penalties of more than $240,000 "for repeated non-compliance" — since construction on the pipeline started in 2019. 

Many of the warnings relate to the failure to protect sensitive waterways and wetlands from sediment and erosion that can harm fish habitat and water quality, a violation of the project's environmental assessment certificate.

The actual number of environmental violations is likely much higher than 51. In an email to CBC News, the ministry said each warning letter may involve several violations in different locations during an inspection visit to pipeline work sites.

When complete, Coastal GasLink's 670-kilometre pipeline will cross about 625 streams, creeks, rivers and lakes, many of them fish bearing, the company says. 

The most recent inspection report by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), published in August, flagged "multiple infractions" — some of them repeat violations — on sensitive waterways, including the release of pollution into Fraser Lake, around 120 kilometres west of Prince George. 

An aerial shot shows an icy river with brown sediment in it.
A plume of brown sediment in Fraser Lake in April 2022 is visible in this aerial photo from an environmental assessment officer's inspection report of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. An EAO white stamp in the top left corner indicates the location and time the photo was taken. (B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change)

The EAO said the release of turbid water flows toward Fraser Lake resulted in a plume of sediment in the water that could be seen from the air.

An EAO inspection photo taken from a helicopter on April 27 shows a large swath of brown water off the north shore of the lake, which is a critical habitat for endangered white sturgeon and trumpeter swans. 

The lake's south shore is home to about 1,000 people in the village of Fraser Lake, and the site of a popular provincial park. 

A lake with yellow-ish colouring due to sunlight.
Visitors enjoy the water at Beaumont Provincial Park on Fraser Lake. The lake is a critical habitat for endangered white sturgeon and a globally significant overwintering site for trumpeter swans. (Contributed/David Luggi )

A ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email that sediment and turbidity can damage water quality and fish habitat, reduce sunlight in the water, and settle on wildlife and vegetation. 

But Coastal GasLink denies responsibility for the environmental violation at Fraser Lake.

In an email to CBC News, Coastal GasLink said the company's own investigation, which included aerial and ground studies and water quality monitoring, determined that the "sediment plume was not a result of project activities" but rather from public roads. 

The ministry says it didn't receive any information that "changed our original findings" and stands by its original inspection. 

An earlier EAO inspection report from 2020 also documented turbid water entering Fraser Lake.

A fence is visible beneath puddles of water, near some tall pipes.
A photograph from an Environmental Assessment Office inspection report shows a submerged sediment fence along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in April 2022. An EAO white stamp in the top left corner indicates the location and time the photo was taken. (BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy)

The most recent inspection report, published last month, lists "multiple" instances of environmental non-compliance in other locations on the pipeline construction route, citing sediment fences that ripped or collapsed and erosion control measures that didn't work.

The company said most of the recently identified problems have already been resolved, while others require "longer term solutions."

"Given the scale of the project, the terrain the project crosses, as well as temperature and ever changing weather conditions, the dynamics of erosion and sediment control remain a challenge," said Coastal GasLink in an email to CBC News. 

In July, the EAO and Coastal GasLink signed a compliance agreement requiring the company to follow "more proactive measures" to control erosion and sedimentation for all new construction along the pipeline route, according to the government.

A ministry news release said failure to comply could "result in escalating enforcement action, up to and including stop-work orders."

The agreement only applies to a 100-kilometre stretch of the pipeline where ground hasn't yet been broken.

In an email to CBC News last week, the ministry said the EAO has "no information at this time on any further enforcement actions" against Coastal GasLink.

A map shows the route of a pipeline from Groundbirch in northeastern B.C. all the way to Kitimat in northwestern B.C.
Coastal GasLink's natural gas pipeline crosses about 625 rivers, creeks, waters, streams and lakes on its 670-kilometre route across northern B.C. (CBC News)

The project has faced strong opposition from some Indigenous groups. 

Several Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters want to stop the construction of the pipeline, whose path runs through their traditional territories. 

This year, 19 pipeline opponents were charged with criminal contempt for defying a court order to stay away from construction sites.

On Sunday, opponents said despite two years of blockades, Coastal GasLink was set to drill beneath the Wedzin Kwa River, also known as the Morice River.

A written release from the Gidimt'en Camp said the river provided drinking water for Wet'suwet'en villages and was a key salmon spawning area.

"Wet'suwet'en resistance to drilling beneath Wedzin Kwa has delayed the destruction of Wet'suwet'en waters for approximately two years," stated the release.

"Wet'suwet'en territory is unceded, unsurrendered, and sovereign.... The pipeline will never be put into service." 

Coastal GasLink says the $11.2-billion project is now 70 per cent complete and that the pipeline is scheduled to be in the ground by 2023.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.