Auditor General of British Columbia Carol Bellringer has issued a report on her audit of compliance and enforcement in the mining sector. The audit was conducted to determine whether BC Ministry of Energy and Mines and BC Ministry of Environment activities that are related to regulatory compliance and enforcement activities in mining protect the province from environmental risks. The report, released Tuesday, May 3, also reviewed the Ministry of Energy and Mines’s performance as the regulator for the Mount Polley Mine.
In the report, Bellringer concludes that the ministries’ “compliance and enforcement activities of the mining sector are inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risks.” It identifies gaps in planning, resources, and tools. With respect to the Mount Polley Tailings Dam, the report notes that weak regulatory oversight by the Ministry of Energy and Mines allowed inconsistencies within the intended dam design to persist, and cites over-reliance on qualified professionals as one factor.
The auditor general’s report notes that the mandate of the Ministry of Energy and Mines includes a responsibility to both promote and regulate mining, and that having both activities within the ministry “creates an irreconcilable conflict.” As result, Bellringer’s overall recommendation is that government create an integrated and independent compliance and enforcement unit for mining activities, and that compliance and enforcement be removed from the ministry. She also makes an additional 16 recommendations to improve compliance and enforcement processes.
Included in the report was the government’s response to the audit findings, which acknowledged the auditor general’s recommendations. While indicating agreement with most of the recommendations, the Government of British Columbia stated that it does not support the need for the ministries’ reorganisation, but is prepared to discuss the concept further with the Office of the Auditor General. Government outlined its intention to establish a mining compliance and enforcement board that will address the need for greater integration between the two ministries, as well as with the Environmental Assessment Office.
APEGBC is reviewing the report in detail to determine what impacts it may have on members and the practice of engineering and geoscience in BC. As a regulator, APEGBC’s primary interest is in seeking to minimise risk to public safety.
APEGBC currently has an investigation underway on the role of engineering professionals involved in the Mount Polley Mining Dam collapse.
Following up on the recommendations of the Independent Engineering Expert Panel Report on Mount Polley, APEGBC is continuing to provide input on the Ministry of Energy and Mines’s development of new codes for the mining industry and is working to clarify the role and responsibilities of Professionals of Record within this sector. APEGBC Council also recently approved the APEGBC Professional Practice Guidelines: Site Characterisation for Dam Foundations in British Columbia at their April meeting, with publication targeted for summer 2016.
The Auditor General’s report, An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector, is available from the Office of the Auditor General’s website.