North American natural gas producer EnCana Corp. has been slapped with an environmental charge alleging that the company constructed a natural gas pipeline through a wildlife area in southeastern Alberta without a permit.

According to Environment Canada, the country's ministry on environmental issues, one count under the Wildlife Area Regulations of the Canada Wildlife Act has been lodged against the company in Alberta Provincial Court. The charge stems from the March 2005 installation of a section of gas pipeline on the Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area.

"They carried on a commercial or industrial activity in a national wildlife area without a permit," said Larry Ottmann, a wildlife investigator for Environment Canada. He noted that the maximum fine for the activity is C$250,000 (US$256,000). Ottmann said he could not say whether EnCana could be forced to reroute its pipe. "We are going to start out with our court dates and see where that takes us," he said. The first court date is set for Dec. 6.

Responding to the charge, EnCana spokesman Alan Boras said the trespass, which involved a distance of approximately 300 meters, was done to protect an area of wetlands. "EnCana acknowledges that in March of 2005 a pipeline was inadvertently, and unknowingly placed within the boundaries of the National Wildlife Area," Boras said. "This happened when a crew tried to avoid and protect a wetlands area, and thus operate in an environmentally responsible manner. While the crew had exercised due diligence to avoid the wetland, it was unaware that it had strayed into the NWA [national wildlife area], and as a result no permit was sought.

"While regrettable, the alleged trespass caused no significant negative environmental effects to the NWA, nor did it interfere with military activity in the area," Boras told NGI. "EnCana has waited for two years while the investigation into the trespass by the regulatory authorities continued. EnCana has appropriate due diligence processes in place to ensure to all extents possible that a similar incident will not occur in the future."

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