Mining Compliance & Enforcement
The Province is committed to ensuring that B.C. remains a leader in mining regulation and oversight, while enhancing responsible resource development and strengthening First Nations involvement in B.C.'s mining sector.
On August 4, 2014, a breach occurred at the tailings storage facility (TSF) at the Mount Polley mine near the town of Likely. This was an unprecedented incident in British Columbia, and the Province responded by taking a leadership role in Canada and internationally to learn from what happened at Mount Polley.
Since August 2014, significant changes have been made to how mining is undertaken and overseen in this province. This includes changes to law and policy, as well as additional resources to improve permitting processes and significantly strengthen compliance and enforcement (C&E).
- Three separate investigations into the Mount Polley breach launched
- Third-party review of 2014 dam safety inspections ordered
- Recommendations of independent panel, Chief Inspector and Auditor General implemented
- Health, Safety and Reclamation Code review completed
- Mining Compliance & Enforcement (C&E) Board established
- Administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) regulations brought into force
- Cross-jurisdictional review of reclamation securities completed
- BC Mine Information website launched
Shortly after the tailings storage facility (TSF) breach occurred at the Mount Polley mine on August 4, 2014, three separate investigations into the incident were launched: an independent expert engineering panel was established to determine the root cause of the breach; the Chief Inspector of Mines conducted an investigation; and the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service is conducting an investigation.
Both the expert panel and the Chief Inspector found that the Mount Polley tailings dam failed because the strength and location of a layer of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account in the design or in subsequent dam raises. The Chief Inspector also found other factors including the slope of the perimeter embankment, inadequate water management, insufficient beaches and a sub-excavation at the outside toe of the dam exacerbated the collapse of the dam and the ensuing environmental damage.
As part of the response to the Mount Polley breach, on August 18, 2014, the Chief Inspector of Mines ordered that:
- The deadline for 2014 dam dafety inspections (DSIs) be accelerated from March 31, 2015 to December 1, 2014;
- Those inspections be reviewed by an independent, qualified, third-party professional engineer from a firm not associated with the TSF;
- The dam’s consequence classification be reviewed by a third party; and,
- For dams with a consequence classification of high, very high or extreme: the Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans (EPRP) be reviewed, tested and updated as required.
Additionally, in response to the Mount Polley independent expert review panel recommendations, the Chief Inspector of Mines ordered 38 mines to provide a Letter of Assurance by June 30, 2015 and confirm whether foundation materials similar to those at Mount Polley exist below any of their dams.
The Province has completed implementation of all recommendations resulting from the independent expert engineering panel’s investigation into the Mount Polley TSF breach and has also made significant progress on implementing the recommendations of the Chief Inspector of Mines. July 2016 updates to the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia, along with new site characterization guidelines from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, address the independent panel’s seven recommendations as outlined in Backgrounder 1 (PDF, 353KB). In addition, the Province has accepted the recommendations contained in the May 2016 Auditor General's report on compliance and enforcement of the mining sector in B.C.
All 43 recommendations of the independent panel, Chief Inspector of Mines and Auditor General are listed in the following documents along with status of implementation as of February 2017.
- Mount Polley Recommendations Table, updated February 28, 2017 (PDF, 175KB)
- Auditor General Recommendations Table, February 2017 (PDF 184KB)
In July 2015, Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett appointed a committee to review the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia (the Code) to determine how best to implement the 26 recommendations stemming from the independent expert engineering panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines’ investigations.
The Code Review Committee was chaired by the Chief Inspector of Mines and consisted of an equal number of representatives from mine labour unions, industry, and, for the first time, First Nations. The committee’s review of the tailings storage facility (TSF) portion of the Code was completed in 2016, and updates came into force July 20, 2016. Updates to TSF regulations include enhanced validation of safety and regulation of all phases of a TSF (all mines in BC with TSFs must have an Independent Tailings Review Board) and improved dam safety guidelines.
The health and safety portion of the Code review is also complete, and these revisions came into force in February 2017. Both the reviews of the Code and mining legislation can give British Columbians confidence that this province’s standards are as good or better than anywhere else in the world.
Jurisdictional Review: Comparison of Mining Legislation and Guidelines in British Columbia, Alaska and Montana
Following the July 2016 TSF updates to the Code, the Ministry of Energy and Mines commissioned international engineering, geoscience and environmental consulting firm Klohn Krippen Berger to complete a third-party comparison of mining legislation and guidelines in British Columbia, Montana and Alaska. The comparison found B.C.’s requirements for mining to be equal to or more stringent than those in Montana or Alaska.
The Province is committed to ensuring that B.C.’s robust standards are adhered to through significant enhancements to its mining compliance and enforcement (C&E) program. In May 2016, a Deputy Ministers Mining C&E Board was established to oversee planning across B.C. in all aspects of mineral exploration and development, with a key focus on environmental protection.
The Province has implemented an administrative monetary penalty (AMP) program under which the Ministry of Energy and Mines can impose a financial penalty on any individual or corporation that contravenes relevant provisions of the Mines Act, the regulations and/or the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code. The maximum AMP that can be imposed is $500,000. The ability to impose AMPs represents an important expansion of the existing C&E tools available to the Ministry. Government also increased the existing penalties available for court prosecutions under the Mines Act. The maximum penalties were raised from $100,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment to $1 million and/or up to three years imprisonment.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Finance commissioned Ernst and Young (EY), a leading auditing firm with experience and knowledge of the mining industry worldwide, to undertake an in-depth examination of reclamation securities practices. In its review, EY found that MEM utilizes a financial security program based on sound principles that include elements of a risk-based approach.
- More on mine reclamation securities in British Columbia
- EY Report & Recommendations for BC's Mine Reclamation Security Policy, February 2017
A collaborative effort of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Environmental Assessment Office and Ministry of Environment, the BC Mine Information website provides greater openness and transparency around mining operations in B.C. This site makes mine-related information, including authorizations and inspection records, from all three agencies available online in one place for the first time.