Company fined $60K for blocking fish movement in B.C.

A natural gas producer has been fined $60,000 for failing to ensure that its road stream crossing in B.C.'s Peace Region doesn't prevent fish movement.

The B.C. Energy Regulator (BCER) issued the fine late last month under the Energy Resource Activities Act, which has been used in 50 other administrative penalties since 2017, according to a provincial database. The $60,000 levied in this case tops this list in terms of the penalty amount.

The fine was given to Pacific Canbriam Energy Limited (PCE), a Calgary-based company that operates in the Montney geological formation in northeastern B.C., and plans to supply the proposed Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish.

According to the company, it identified a culvert failure at Kobes Creek Road in June 2022 that was creating an unspecified safety issue for staff and personnel using the road.

The companies replaced two culverts but the fix didn't allow for fish passage, according to the BCER's administrative finding. It considers the company's violations to be moderate.

"While the contraventions were isolated to one stream crossing, they did involve excavations and material infill into the area of a fish-bearing water course that was several meters in length, creating potential impacts on spawning fish or eggs … and fish movement," read the agency's report.

The agency also says there was "no evidence" showing that the violations were deliberate and that PCE co-operated with the investigation. However, it found the company's prevention efforts to be "insufficient."

PCE said in a statement to CBC News that it has accepted the penalty and satisfied all requirements under the BCER's order, which the agency confirmed.

"Pacific Canbriam Energy has implemented processes and procedures to prevent similar situations from occurring," the company said.

Common issue

Jesse Zeman, executive director of B.C. Wildlife Federation, said he wasn't surprised to hear about the case.

According to Zeman, there were up to 200,000 road stream crossings across B.C. that restricted fish migration in 2020. Older data from the province, published in 2012, indicated that there could be as many as 224,000 culverts with a high likelihood of impeding fish.

These situations can also prevent fish from getting to their spawning habitat and eventually reduce their populations, Zeman said.

In addition, he noted that remediation can be costly — and given the scale of this issue, prevention is the best medicine.

"We're way better off building fish-friendly infrastructure rather than trying to undo the harm after we've put it in," Zeman said.