New rules coming for companies risking hazardous spills in B.C.

VANCOUVER – British Columbia is unprepared for a major land-based, hazardous-material spill because current rules and regulations are outdated — and that needs to change, says the province’s environment minister.

Mary Polak told reporters Monday the government is working on ways to create a quicker, more co-ordinated response to land-based spills.

“Our experience with smaller spills and near misses shows the province is not prepared for a major spill,” she said. “Our goal is to have a world-leading spill regime in place, and we recognize we’re not there yet.”

The plans include creating an organization that will be able to immediately respond to any spill with trained workers and proper equipment.

The minister said the provincially certified, industry-funded organization will be able to start containing and co-ordinating cleanup of a spill quicker than current crews.

Polak compared the team to West Coast Marine Response Organization, an agency contracted by the federal government to contain and clean up marine spills.

“That’s the kind of idea that we are looking at. You have one body that can be contacted, that can be put into place, taking action even before we’ve identified who’s responsible for a spill,” she said.

In April, a 2,700-litre bunker fuel spill from a grain carrier soiled Vancouver-area beaches.

The coast guard and cleanup firms were heavily criticized for a slow response to the spill by local and provincial politicians.

Premier Christy Clark said that had the province been the lead agency in the operation, it could have done a much better job.

Clark demanded changes in spill response and called for the federal government to “step up” to its responsibilities.

The province is also creating new legislation, requiring companies dealing with hazardous materials to prove they have plans in place to manage and respond to land-based spills.

The new rules and regulations will work alongside plans already in place for projects such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Polak said.

The goal, she added, is to fill any gaps in existing federal and provincial legislation, especially co-ordinating responses to spills.

Michael Davies, senior director of Kinder Morgan Canada, said in a news release the company “is committed to a polluter-pay, world-class, land-based and marine-spill response regime.”

“Trans Mountain is focused on preventing incidents before they happen, but believes in being able to respond and clean up our own spills,” Davies said.

He added that Kinder Morgan worked with the province before Monday’s announcement and he is looking forward to continuing that work as the new program is implemented.

The government is expected to introduce the legislation next spring and the new spill-response regime is expected to be in place by 2017.