New Brunswick

Canaport LNG faces charges for bird kill

CBC News has learned that Canaport LNG faces three charges after an estimated 7,500 songbirds flew in to a gas flare at the Saint John plant last September.

Environment Canada accuses company of violating laws that protect sensitive and threatened species

A large number of red-eyed vireos were among the estimated 7,500 migrating songbirds killed by the flare at Canaport LNG in Saint John. (Courtesy of the Migration Research Foundation)

Canaport LNG faces three charges after an estimated 7,500 songbirds flew in to a gas flare at the Saint John plant last September, CBC News has learned.

Kate Shannon, a company spokesperson, confirms Canaport was informed of the charges late last week.

The charges include two alleged violations of the Migratory Birds Convention Act and one from the Species at Risk Act. Each violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000,000 for an indictable offence.

Shannon said the company is considering its options.

"We're currently reviewing the charges as we just received them on Thursday and we will respond in due course," she said.

The Canaport LNG terminal, located on Saint John's east side, is owned by Repsol and Irving Oil Ltd. (CBC)

The charges come one year after federal enforcement officers carried out search warrants at Canaport LNG.

At the time, uniformed Environment Canada officers were monitoring people entering and leaving the facility, but it's unclear what evidence or items were seized.

A charge under the Species at Risk Act means some of the birds killed were considered threatened or endangered. The Migratory Birds Convention Act is meant to protect species that move annually between summer and winter habitat.

The gas flare, which killed the birds, was shut down Sept. 30, 2013, after a $45-million upgrade at Canaport LNG.

Critics say bird kill may have been prevented

Nature NB president Sabine Dietz said bird migration patterns are predictable and when the incident occurred, around Sept. 14 last year, migrations had begun in the area.

"We know this incident could have been avoided due to the knowledge we have for the Bay of Fundy through researchers and naturalists. They know when the birds move through," she told CBC News on Monday.

Dietz believes the flare should not have been operating that night, especially since the weather was reported to be foggy and overcast, which is known to increase the potential for birds to be attracted to objects like lights and flares.

Reacting to the fact that charges have been laid, Dietz says the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Species at Risk Act are effective tools to protect nature.

"The Migratory Birds Act and the Species at Risk Act, both federal legislation, are two of the, pretty much the only strong legislation left standing."

Precedents in Alberta and New Brunswick

In April 2008, about 1,600 ducks were killed after they landed in a tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alta. The company responsible for the waste site, Syncrude, was charged under the Migratory Birds Convention Act and applicable provincial laws.

Ultimately, the company was ordered to pay a total of $3 million, which included a combination of fines and penalties.

Also in 2008, J.D. Irving Limited pleaded guilty to destroying a heron nesting site north of Saint John two years earlier.

The company, also charged under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, was ordered to pay a fine of $60,000.

Canaport LNG is run as a partnership between Spanish energy company Repsol S.A. with Irving Oil Ltd., as a minority partner.

It was designed and built as an import and re-gasification facility, supplying customers in Canada and the northeast United States. In 2013 the facility received approval to export gas using ships. 

According to Environment Canada, a first court appearance in this matter is set for Jan. 21.