The Mining Sector Compliance and Enforcement: An Audit in BC

This audit was conducted to determine the efficacy of regulatory compliance and enforcement activities of the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) in protecting the environment of British Columbia. Major gaps were identified in planning, resources and tools and current inspection and monitoring was found to be insufficient to ensure compliance of mine operators with legislation.

During the two-year audit period, the Mount Polley tailings dam failed, releasing 25 million cubic metres of tailings and wastewater into the surrounding watershed. The MEM’s regulatory performance at the site was subsequently reviewed and in line with findings at other sites, the audit found infrequent inspections, a lack of resources and an absence of enforcement. The auditor general subsequently advises the removal of the compliance and enforcement program from MEM and states that the Ministry’s role in promotion of the development of mining is a conflict of interest to the role of compliance and enforcement.

Mining activities are most likely to impact the environment through contamination of water through acid rock drainage and leaching of heavy and non-heavy metals. If these processes occur, they can persist indefinitely and require monitoring and water treatment permanently, which can cost millions of dollars annually. The industry is responsible for the construction and maintenance of monitoring and water treatment facilities, though the finite nature of mining and companies risks leaving taxpayers the bill. MEM is responsible for activities within the mine site; the design, construction, operation and reclamation of the land. The Ministry also has the ability to require financial deposits by mining companies, designed to act as insurance to contribute to environmental mitigation should the company fail to meet its obligations. The audit raised concerns that the MEM has failed to acquire adequate security from mining companies, having obtained less than half its estimated liability sum of $2.1 billion.

The MoEs role in mining compliance generally extends beyond the mine, for example regulating the quality and quantity of waste discharges. It was found that there were gaps in the application of its enforcement framework and that neither the MEM nor MoE coordinates on enforcement and compliance. Both ministries were reported to lack resources, focusing mostly on permit applications with few resources allocated to the regulation of current mining activity.

An important economy in BC, mining employs more than 30,000 people and was valued at $7 billion in 2013. Recently, there has been a decline in the industry. However, the audit states that regardless of the current growth status of the mining industry, environmental protection must be insured.

The audit recommends that the Government of BC creates an independent and integrated unit to specialize in the compliance and enforcement of mining activity for environmental protection. Due to the mandate of the MEM to simultaneously promote and regulate, the audit recommends that the unit be a separate entity.

Further guidance includes 16 more specific recommendations made by the audit for the development of a new unit. These fall under seven main categories:


It is recommended that a strategic plan be developed to allow a coordinated and integrated regulatory approach with adequate training and tools required.


It is recommended that the language of historical and current permits needs to be enforceable. The audit refers to the reclamation liability estimate and states that the estimate should be accurate and the deposit amount adequate to cover costs. It also refers to fees under the Environmental Management Act and highlights the need to ensure that these are effective in pollution reduction. A cost recovery models should be adopted to ensure consistency across the natural resources sector. Finally the audit also recommends that the government should disclose its rationale for permit granting publically, detailing the social, environmental and economic factors considered. This is an action legislated under section 137 of the Environmental Management Act and should be implemented.

Compliance Promotion

The audit recommends that the government develops clear reclamation guidance and incentivize environmental responsibility within industry.

Compliance Verification

The audit recommends that a risk-based approach be taken to determine inspection frequency. Appropriate standards need to be adopted for mine design and high-risk mines should be systematically monitored.


The audit recommends the development of procedures, enforcement tools and policies for responding to non-compliance of the industry.

Evaluation and Adjustment

The audit recommends regular evaluation by the government of its compliance and enforcement activities.


The audit recommends that the results, trends and effectiveness of mining enforcement and compliance activities be reported publicly.

The auditor general stated her disappointment in the resistance to her recommendation of the removal of the compliance and enforcement program from the MEM and that she finds it disconcerting that the rationale for the decision that the government makes will not be disclosed in spite of the legislation under section 137 of the Environmental Management Act.

  • Source Auditor General of British Columbia. May 2016. An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector. Available at : [Accessed 03/2021].