08/17/2011 11:23 EDT | Updated 10/17/2011 05:12 EDT

Energy giant Statoil to plead guilty to oilsands environmental charges

Flickr: vauvau

EDMONTON - An Edmonton court has been told that Norwegian energy giant Statoil will admit to at least some environmental infractions in relation to its oilsands operations in northern Alberta.

"There will be a guilty plea," Crown prosecutor Susan McRory told a judge Wednesday.

"We're looking at creative sentencing options," she said. "That's a labour-intensive process."

The company was charged in February under provincial laws with 16 counts of improperly diverting water for use at its in-situ site near Conklin, Alta. The company also faces three counts of providing false or misleading statements about the alleged activity in 2008 and 2009.

Defence lawyers did not address the court. But company spokesman Peter Symons said from Calgary that Statoil expects some of the charges to be dropped.

"We expect there will be a substantial reduction in the number of charges faced by Statoil," he said. "We're working on a resolution to the case that will benefit Albertans.

"It's still up in the air as to what the final outcome will be."

Alberta has legislation that allows for the government to work out a sentence other than the fines called for by law.

For example, when Syncrude was sentenced last fall in the death of 1,600 migrating ducks on its tailings ponds, it was ordered to fund habitat restoration, studies on bird deterrence and an environmental studies program. The total cost of the penalty was $3 million.

McRory said the sentence will be accompanied by an agreed statement of facts.

The maximum fine faced by Statoil is $500,000 for each charge.

Greenpeace Norway campaigner Truls Gulowsen said the penalty the company ultimately receives must be high enough to prevent future infractions.

"If any fines are going to have preventive effects on oil companies that are making millions of dollars per hour, they need to be really, really high," Gulowsen said outside court. "We hope that this is a step in the right direction of tough enforcement."