B.C. Spill Response Regime

On May 10, after several days of debate, the BC Legislative Assembly passed the proposed changes to the Environmental Management Act, 2016, without change. Royal Assent was given on May 19, 2016. The new legislation can be accessed from the Legislative Assembly Progress of Bills table (Bill 21).

The proposed regime will ensure effective preparedness, response and recovery measures are in place for hazardous substance spills, from any source, and reflect over several years of engagement with industry, First Nations and local government. This legislation will:

  • Establish new requirements for spill preparedness, response and recovery
  • Create new offences and penalties
  • Enable the certification of a Preparedness and Response Organization
  • Increase transparency, participation and accountability


On June 15, 2015 the Province announced plans to proceed with developing and implementing a world-leading spill response regime.

Based on extensive consultation, the Ministry of Environment (Ministry) is updating the current spill preparedness and response in B.C. Enhanced government oversight and the addition of specific new rules and requirements are intended to confirm industry and government’s ability to respond fast and effectively to spills anywhere in B.C.

The regime will enhance the preparedness, response and recovery actions taken for all types of spills that cause pollution or threaten public safety, regardless of their source, with pipelines being just one area of focus. Collaboration across industry sectors will work to ensure the safety of people, property and the environment (air, land and water) from spills.

Design Principles

In June 2015, the Ministry announced seven agreed upon key elements for the design of this world-leading regime:

  1. Polluter pays - this principle is already in effect in B.C. and will not change. Companies that spill or pose the risk of having a spill should be responsible for the costs associated with preparing for and responding to a spill.
  2. Risk-based requirements - all spillers will be required to meet new response requirements. The requirements for planning and preparedness will be based on a defined risk threshold which will consider toxicity and volume.
  3. Avoids unnecessary duplication - recognizing there are some effective and collaborative spill response procedures in place in certain sectors, supplementation is still required to ensure environmental protection and also ensure British Columbia’s system can be considered world-leading.
  4. Fair and transparent process - government has committed to continued dialogue through consultation on the development of new legislation and regulations.
  5. Opportunities for First Nations and communities in preparedness, response and recovery - active engagement by First Nations and communities on all aspects of a world-leading system are considered key to the successful design, implementation and operations.
  6. Strong government oversight - new requirements will provide both clarity and certainty for spillers, meet public and First Nations expectations and maximize the protection of the environment.
  7. Continuous improvement - government is committed to continuous improvement ensuring a sustainable world-leading system by applying lessons learned from exercises, incidents and other jurisdictions. Additionally, any technological innovations will continue to be adopted.