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Gas company pleads guilty, fined after leak

EDMONTON - A Calgary-based natural gas company has been assessed $350,000 in fines after pleading guilty to a pipeline leak that killed hundreds of fish and damaged a creek in northern Alberta.

SemCAMS ULC pleaded guilty after a pipeline rupture released 850,000 litres of salty, chemically contaminated wastewater into a small creek and muskeg near Fox Creek, Alta., in August 2010.

After an investigation lasting about 18 months, numerous charges were laid against SemCAMS under both federal and provincial legislation. In court, the company pleaded guilty to one count under each jurisdiction's laws.

At least $185,000 of the fine will be paid into the federal Environmental Damages Fund, while $15,000 of it goes to the court.

"From my experience in Alberta, it's a large fine," said Michael Bell, Environment Canada's prairie director of enforcement.

Non-governmental groups seeking money for environmental projects can apply to that fund, Bell said.

The judge recommended that $60,000 of the money going to the environmental fund be earmarked for the Alberta Lake Management Society.

The provincial portion of the fine totalled $150,000.

Bell said there wasn't anything unusual about the length of time it took for the charges to come before the court.

"Fisheries Act investigations are complex undertakings," he said.

SemCAMS gathers and processes natural gas, operating four gas processing plants and nearly 1,000 kilometres of pipeline in Alberta.

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