Fuel spill into Hudson Bay near Rankin Inlet was never cleaned up, says Environment Canada

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The Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Fuel from a storage tank within the school overflowed and 18,000 litres of it ended up in the Artcic Ocean in April 2020. (Matisse Harvey/CBC - image credit)
The Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Fuel from a storage tank within the school overflowed and 18,000 litres of it ended up in the Artcic Ocean in April 2020. (Matisse Harvey/CBC - image credit)

Thousands of litres of diesel that leaked out of a storage tank in a Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, high school two years was never cleaned up, says Environment Canada.

In April 2020, during a manual transfer of fuel, a pump was left on overnight at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik school. The tank began to overflow, then went unnoticed until the next morning. 18,400 litres of fuel dripped down the drain in the room the storage tank is held in at the school, and into the sewer system.

After that, says Daniel Smith, the prairie and northern area regional director with Environment and Climate Change Canada's environmental enforcement program, it flowed toward the treatment plant and then directly out in to the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay. In an interview with CBC this week, Smith said there's an outfall about 500 meters offshore under the ice.

"The information that we have is that it was not recoverable due to the difficult and almost impossible situation with the ice cover and the tides," Smith said.

This week, the Nunavut government was slapped with a $100,000 fine under the amended section 2.1 of Canada's storage tank regulations.

It's the first prosecution under this section, said Smith. He said the $100,000 fine is the mandatory and the minimum fine under this section.

The cause of the fuel leak was said to be human error. Smith said the impact to the environment is unknown.

Environment and Climate Change Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada

"Diesel fuel is obviously harmful to the environment and fish," he said.

"We aren't able to ascertain exactly what the impacts might have been but we do know that it was a significant release and it was not recoverable."

Funds from the $100,000 fine will go to the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which is supposed to support restoration projects including the conservation of wildlife and habitats.

As well, among the court orders that also resulted from the incident, the Nunavut government will have to disclose the circumstances and possible impact of the spill to the hamlet residents by Dec. 31.

"Our goal is to prevent these situations and these harms from occurring in the first place," Smith said.

"To date, the government of Nunavut has been very cooperative throughout the course of our investigation … We will be monitoring to ensure that this is met."

in a news release at the time, the territory said the spill did not affect the municipal water supply.

Nunavut's department of Community and Government Services, which is responsible for the fuel tank, has not replied to multiple requests for comment.

According to Sandi Chan, a spokesperson with the department of education, the tank was scheduled to be replaced that year.

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