Alberta Provincial Court penalized Suncor Energy Inc. $100,000 for releasing toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S) at its oil refinery in Sherwood Park.
Hydrogen Sulfide is a chemical asphyxiant and mitochondrial poison. It is a colorless, flammable gas with a unique odour. Concentrated H2S can be immediately fatal, but exposure to low-levels can damage human organs, temporarily or permanently. In this Edmonton area event, a number of people were taken to hospital but no person died.
In its 2020 Annual Report, Suncor reported assets totalled $85 billion. The penalty assessed represented 0.00012% of Suncor’s assets. To a person with assets of $150,000, that’s the equivalent of an 18¢ fine.
Compare to driving fines for speeding in BC. These range from $138 to $483 and are applied regardless of ability to pay.
Judge H. Lee Sarokin, retired after 17 years on the bench of a U.S. federal court. He wrote:
The public has this view, rightfully so, that corporations guilty of killing people, harming them or depriving them of their hard-earned money reach into their petty cash drawers to pay these fines — no matter how large — while gleefully going right on doing the conduct for which they were fined.
This pervasive criminal conduct can no longer merely be the cost of doing business — freedom of the guilty corporate executives must be the cost. Fines are what you pay for over-time parking — not for major corporate criminal activity which kills, harms or steals from people.
If we expect wealthy companies to alter their business practices on safety, the environment, and other matters of corporate responsibility and integrity, punishment should fit the crime, but more importantly, it should fit the criminal.
A deep dive into regulatory issues in Alberta is linked here:
Exploring a regulatory maze