Nunavut gov’t releases details of 2020 fuel spill at Rankin Inlet high school

Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, was the site of an 18,400-litre fuel spill in 2020. (Matisse Harvey/CBC)

Several improvements made to fuel system to prevent future spills

Nunavut’s government says it has made several improvements to a fuel system in Rankin Inlet to make sure it doesn’t have another spill like the one in 2020 that cost the territory $100,000 in federal fines.

On Friday, the government issued a news release with details on the outcome of an 18,400-litre diesel fuel spill at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik High School in April 2020.

It was a “significant” amount, the news release stated, since even one litre of diesel can contaminate up to 1 million litres of water and affect the Arctic ecosystem for weeks.

The news release said the government has wrapped up its investigation into the spill, which happened when a Community and Government Services worker was transferring fuel from one tank to another using a pump and valve.

School staff discovered spill

Fuel overflowed due to “operator error” for more than 19 hours before school staff discovered the spill. The fuel ran through a floor drain into the hamlet’s utilidor system, through the lift station and wastewater treatment plant, and into the nearby Prairie Bay.

“The department attempted to recover some of the diesel from Johnson Cove Lift Station, but the discharge was complete,” the news release stated.

Government workers tried to remediate the spill inside the school and monitor the spill in the bay, but thick ice and strong tides made the latter efforts difficult.

New system installed

Since then, the government has installed a new fuel system to prevent tank overflow, and a pump timer for manual fuel transfers that automatically shuts off the pump. It also now requires a second employee to log the completion of fuel tank activity, and improved its emergency plan for spills.

Earlier this year, the Nunavut government was fined $100,000 for the spill after pleading guilty to one charge under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The Nunavut court also ordered the government to publicly disclose the circumstances of the spill and its potential impacts to residents.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Equipment failure causes heating system leak in Rankin Inlet, Northern Canada, CBC News

Russia: Nornickel must pay €1.62 billion for its huge oil spill in Arctic tundra, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Oil spill cleanup ongoing in Sweden after freighter runs aground, Radio Sweden

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