The Canadian unit of Wisconsin-based industrial contractor Michels Corp. has been ordered by a British Columbia court to pay $2.1-million after pleading guilty earlier this month to two federal charges for violating Canada environmental laws in drilling fluid spills in two province waterways.

The pleas and penalty follow a federal probe of fluid and sediment releases through storm sewers in 2017 by Nisku, Alberta-based Michels Canada Co. from project horizontal directional drilling. The contamination into creeks that killed hundreds of fish, said Environment and Climate Change Canada, a federal agency.

The environmental agency said that its investigators "collected water samples, dead fish and other evidence relating to the spills.” The affected creeks feed the Fraser and Serpentine river systems, which are habitats for coho salmon, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout, the latter the agency said “is a species of concern and designated at risk.” 

The Canada firm's parent ranks at No. 27 on ENR’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, reporting $3.62 billion in total 2021 revenue.

A Michaels Canada spokesman said “after the incident and the investigation, Michels Canada was not informed that the [government] was contemplating a citation until March 30, 2022.” It received a notice of violation in August, he said, with the fine “the result of a joint submission” to the court by the firm and government.  

A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said a total of five charges were filed against the firm. She said the time lag between the releases and the enforcement was because “the investigation was complex and required several expert witnesses.”

The Michels spokesman declined to identify the project on which the spills occurred, and did not offer detail on its scope, cost, client or completion date, citing “infrastructure security reasons.”

According to the spokesman, “One spill was the result of subcontractor compliance. The other spill, involving Michels Canada, was the result of a series of unlikely events happening simultaneously resulting in rare release.”

The firm will be added to a federal “environmental offenders registry,” the agency said, but there are no restrictions on the firm's work in Canada, said its spokesman.

“Michels Canada is dedicated to continuous improvement in the areas of safety and environmental compliance and stewardship," he said. "In its 25-year history, this is the only incident of this magnitude. We have extensively studied this situation and used our findings as an opportunity to review and improve our processes and procedures to ensure environmental compliance and stewardship by our company and by our subcontractors."  

Environment and Climate Change Canada said the fines will be directed to a federal "environmental damages" fund, for projects "that have a positive impact on the environment."