CN fined for 2015 diesel spill into North Saskatchewan River

Canadian National Railway has been fined $125,000 after pleading guilty this month to two environmental charges stemming from a 2015 discharge of diesel fuel into the North Saskatchewan River, Alberta Environment and Parks said Monday.

$110,000 of $125,000 fine directed to Edmonton and Area Land Trust

Boaters on the North Saskatchewan River on June 10, 2015, one day after witnesses reported a sheen of fuel two kilometres long on the river. (CBC)

Canadian National Railway has been fined $125,000 after pleading guilty to two environmental charges stemming from a 2015 discharge of diesel fuel into the North Saskatchewan River, Alberta Environment and Parks said Monday.

In a news release, Alberta Environment said CN pleaded guilty in Edmonton provincial court to two charges under the provincial Environmental Protection and Protection Act:

  • releasing a substance that caused or may have caused a significant adverse effect;
  • failing to take all reasonable measures to remediate, manage, remove or otherwise dispose of the substance.

Under a creative sentencing order dated June 2, $110,000 of the $125,000 fine will go to the Edmonton and Area Land Trust under a creative sentencing agreement. The land trust will spend the money to look after its properties in the Capital Region Conservation Area, with a focus on aquatic and riparian habitat.

CN had faced a total of six charges related to the incident in which a malfunctioning separator discharged a mix of diesel and water into a storm sewer in the company's Bissell rail yard in north Edmonton.

The separator is designed to skim hydrocarbons from the top of a water tank. The hydrocarbons go to a waste oil tank while the water goes to an outflow chamber before eventually discharging into the city's storm sewer system.

Sheen on river stretched 2 kilometres

According to an agreed statement of facts, a CN employee turned on the separator sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. on April 9, 2015. Sometime between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., another employee shut off the pump after noticing a mix of diesel and water in the outflow chamber.

The same day, Alberta Environment received several public complaints about a hydrocarbon sheen up to two kilometres long on the North Saskatchewan River, extending downstream from an outfall underneath the Quesnell bridge.

CN reported discharge in July

The source of the hydrocarbons wasn't immediately identified.

On April 11, 2015, a CN supervisor observed diesel in the stormwater sump but it was at a level below the outflow pipe that connects the sump to the storm sewer system. The supervisor arranged for a service company to clean out any diesel from the separator and sump. That job was performed two days later.

CN took no other actions to confine the diesel release other than leaving the separator off, according to the agreed statement of facts.

The company reported the discharge to Alberta Environment and Parks on July 7, 2015.

Two weeks later, Alberta Environment and Parks directed CN to stop using the separator.

The exact quantity of diesel that reached the river isn't known. But according to the agreed statement of facts, it "impaired the quality of the water in the North Saskatchewan River by rendering a portion of it unfit for consumption by humans or animals for a short but unknown period."