Ottawa

Imperial Oil charged $469K for fouling eastern Ontario wells

Imperial Oil has received a hefty fine after 62,000 litres of fuel leaked from a gas station near Kingston, Ont., and contaminated residential wells about three years ago.

Imperial Oil has received a hefty fine after 62,000 litres of fuel leaked from a gas station near Kingston, Ont., and contaminated residential wells three years ago.

An Ontario judge ruled that the company must pay $375,000, along with a victim surcharge of about $94,000, after pleading guilty to permitting the discharge of fuel into the natural environment, said a news release issued Thursday by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

Thegas, which leaked from one of the company's Esso stations alongHighway 401,contaminated the groundwater used byeight homesnear Odessa, Ont., about 25 kilometres west of Kingston.

The company has been responsible for supplying the affected residents with drinking water and cleaning up the contamination, said ministry spokesman John Steele.

"They've spent a lot of money— probably far more than the fine," said Steele, noting that Imperial Oil bought a number of the affected homes.

Steele said the penalty was one of the more significant ones levied this year for environmental violations, but that was appropriate considering the leak's effect on nearby residents, which continues to this day.

"The groundwater is improving, but it's not back to normal yet," Steele said.

Imperial Oil spokesman Robert Thebergesaid it's "hard to say" whether the water is safe to drink now.

The company reported the fuel line leak to the ministry immediately after it was discovered on Feb. 3, 2004.

The volume of gas in the service station's tanks had been highly irregular for about a year— enough that the company's ownpoliciessaid they should be investigated.

Initially, ministry officials believed nearby wells were not affected by the leak.

The groundwater contamination was discovered in March 2004 after inspectors followed up on a complaint by a nearby resident in November 2003 about a gas smell from residential well water.