Mineral Prospecting and Exploration

Exploration Camps

Overview of BC Law

BC law regulates the how miners must leave exploration camps:

  • if the exploration camp will be used for future exploration activities, it must be left in a clean and safe condition and where practicable secured from wildlife access.141
  • if the exploration camp will not be used for future exploration activities, it must be dismantled, removed and the site reclaimed (unless exempt from so doing by an inspector).142

Before leaving a camp (either for the season or permanently), the miner must:143

  • remove, burn or bury all refuse so that it does not attract wildlife;
  • backfill all refuse pits; and
  • remove all food and explosives.


BC’s current regulation of exploration camps offers inadequate environmental protection.

Recommended Solutions

Require ongoing refuse management and site maintenance at exploration camps

[Tags: Exploration; Environment; Camp; Waste; Food]

As indicated above, BC law mandates that exploration camps be left in a clean state at the end of exploration activities. However, there are no requirements regarding on-going site maintenance during exploration. Poor maintenance practices (such as the improper storage of food) often attract wildlife and habituate them to humans. This is problematic and often leads to the animals having to be destroyed. To help prevent this, on-going maintenance of exploration camps should be required while exploration activities are being carried out. This need is recognized in the Yukon where all solid waste, including debris, equipment, barrels, drums, and scrap metal, must be safely stored on the site of the exploration program while the program is carried out and must be disposed of in accordance with the Solid Waste Regulation when the program ceases.144 In addition, the law requires that camps be kept clean and tidy.145

Decrease allowable time for exploration camp removal

[Tags: Exploration; Environment; Camps]

BC law mandates that exploration camps be dismantled and removed within one year when they are not to be used for future exploration activities.146 In contrast, Zambian legislation mandates that any camp, temporary building or machinery must be removed within 60 days of the expiry or termination of a prospecting licence.147 This ensures prompt removal and clean-up of exploration camps.


Overview of BC Law

Drilling is an important aspect of mineral exploration activities. However, drill cuttings and additives can significantly impact water quality, aquatic and wildlife habitat, and humans that come into contact with them. Adequate regulation must therefore be in place to protect local ecosystems and communities from these potential impacts.

Under BC legislation, drill sites may not be located within:148

  • streams;
  • lakes (unless a management plan has been approved by an inspector);
  • known wetlands (unless exploration is conducted when: the ground is frozen; there is no standing water at the drill site; or a management plan has been submitted and approved by the regulatory authority); or
  • riparian setbacks (unless the regulatory authority has granted authorization and management plans include provision for the management of drilling discharge).

Drilling activities are also subject to the following legal requirements:

  • absorbent mats and containment devices must be used for pumps and pump fuel supplies to prevent spilled liquid hydrocarbons from escaping;149
  • practicable measures must be taken to manage the flow of drilling discharge, and minimize the impact on watercourses throughout drilling operations;
  • appropriate emergency spill kits must be readily available at all active drill and water supply pump sites;
  • groundwater must not be permitted to flow from completed drill holes without the written authorization of an inspector; and
  • all equipment, waste and other refuse must be disposed of properly upon abandonment of an exploration drill site.


Although drilling activities are regulated in BC, additional provisions could substantially reduce the impacts of drilling on the environment at exploration sites in the province.

Recommended Solutions

Determine drill site location through access and/or exploration agreements

[Tags: Exploration; Drilling; Access Agreements; Exploration Agreements]

First Nations should be involved in drill siting to ensure there is no overlap with established no-go zones (such as cultural heritage sites) on their traditional territories. This can be done by including drill site locations in the access and/or exploration agreement between the proponent and the Indigenous community. As described above, many jurisdictions already require that access and/or exploration agreements be in place before exploration activities (such as drilling) may commence.

Prohibit use of non-biodegradable and toxic drilling fluids

[Tags: Exploration; Environment; Drilling; Fluids]

BC’s Handbook for Mineral and Coal Exploration recommends against using non-biodegradable and non-toxic drill additives and fluids.150 However, this recommendation is not mandatory. Conversely, in Alberta, the regulations mandate that no test hole be drilled or abandoned using fluids or materials that contain harmful contaminants.151

Require proper storage of fuel and lubricants, including secondary containment storage

[Tags: Exploration; Hazardous Materials; Environmental]

The Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia specifies the following legal requirements for fuel and lubricants:152

  • liquid hydrocarbon products must be stored within a containment that minimizes the possibility of accidental discharge to the environment;
  • bulk liquid hydrocarbon products must not be stored within 30 meters of a watercourse (unless authorized by an inspector);
  • ground-based machinery must not be fuelled or serviced within riparian setback distances specified for drilling; and
  • all hydrocarbon containers (empty or full) must be removed from every exploration site by the end of each field season (unless otherwise authorized by an inspector).

BC laws do not specify any requirements for secondary containment structures. In contrast, under Yukon legislation, a secondary containment structure must be constructed for any petroleum fuel storage capacity that exceeds 4,000 liters.153 This ensures greater environmental protection from higher risk fuel storage.

Regulate management of drill fluids, re-circulate drill muds and contain sumps

[Tags: Exploration; Environment; Drilling; Fluids]

In the Yukon, specific legal provisions have been adopted to promote responsible management of drill fluids (also referred to as “drill muds”). These legal provisions mandate that:

  • drill muds be re-circulated when possible;154
  • all drill fluids must be contained in a sump;155 and
  • drilling wastes (fluids, cuttings and mud) must not be left within 30 m of a water body.156

Similarly, in Manitoba, legal provisions mandate that no drill wastes may be discharged in water ways or onto adjacent lands.157

Require preservation of drill core samples

[Tags: Exploration; Drilling; Drill Core]

Drill core samples are expensive to obtain. If labelled and stored properly, however, they can provide valuable information to future prospectors. Although the preservation of drill cores could help avoid duplication of work and minimize unnecessary exploration, BC does not require their preservation. In contrast, India and Papua New Guinea’s laws require the preservation of drill cores.158 Other jurisdictions mandate that core may only be disposed of with the express consent of the regulatory authority. In Ghana, for example, this consent may only be granted after consultation with the Geological Survey Department.159 Similarly, in Manitoba it is illegal to abandon or destroy drill cores without prior permission from the regulatory authority.160 In Finland, miners must provide the regulator with a representative sample of drill cores within six months of the expiry of an exploration permit.161

Require submission of borehole logs to regulatory authority

[Tags: Exploration; Drilling; Borehole Logs; Database]

Drill borehole logs may also contain important information for regional groundwater aquifer mapping. This data should therefore be submitted to regulatory authorities for use in a regional ecological database. Submission of borehole logs is a legal requirement in several jurisdictions, including Manitoba162 and Botswana.163

Require management of ground subsidence caused by drilling activities and prohibit use of contaminated or noxious materials to fill subsidence areas

[Tags: Exploration; Environment; Drilling; Reclamation]

Ground subsidence is the downward shift of the earth that can occur from mining activities such as drilling. In BC, there are no requirements that subsidence areas be filled, nor does BC regulate the materials that may be used as fill. In Alberta, specific provisions have been enacted to address ground subsidence that occurs as a result of drilling. These provisions mandate that in the occurrence of such subsidence, the miner must take the necessary action to fill in the area of subsidence so that the ground level is the same as it was before the test hole was drilled and to minimize any further subsidence. In addition, any material used to fill areas of subsidence must be free of noxious weeds and harmful contaminants.164

Regulate drill hole abandonment: contaminants; fluid movement; and sealants

[Tags: Exploration; Drilling; Reclamation]

BC law does not specify any requirements for reclaiming abandoned drill holes. Provincial policy does however recommend that drill holes be sealed along their entire length.165 Stronger legal requirements for drill hole abandonment are provided in other jurisdictions. For example:

  • In Alberta, proponents are prohibited from abandoning drill holes with fluids or materials that contain harmful contaminants, or in a manner that would permit the movement of water from one aquifer or groundwater formation to another, or from the surface of land to an aquifer or other groundwater formation.166
  • In Manitoba, proponents must abandon drill holes in a manner that prevents the vertical movement of fluids between permeable water bearing zones penetrated by the borehole.167 In addition, the entire borehole must be grouted, or alternatively a mechanical plug must be employed in combination with grouting for hole abandonment.168
  • In Colorado, drill hole abandonment must be carried out immediately following the drilling of the hole and the probing for minerals in the prospecting process. Drill holes that need to be maintained as temporarily abandoned must be securely covered in a manner that will prevent injury to both persons and animals.169
  • In Oregon, the mining regulatory authority must consult with the government department responsible for water management regarding the development of rules for drill hole abandonment.170
Require identification on exploration equipment

[Tags: Exploration, Enforcement]

No specific regulation of exploration equipment is provided under BC law. This may make it difficult for government officials to identify proponents and enforce the terms of a permit or licence. In contrast, Alberta’s laws require that miners display a unique identification number on exploration equipment and operate exploration equipment in accordance with the exploration permit.171


Overview of BC Law

In BC, reclamation requirements are specified for general exploration activities, including:

  • reclaim mechanically disturbed sites, campsites and exploration access within 1 year of cessation of exploration (unless authorized in writing by an inspector);172
  • backfill and reclaim pits and trenches prior to abandonment;173
  • stabilize exploration site, access road prism and clearing widths;174
    • restore drainage patterns;175
    • minimize soil erosion and the establishment of noxious weeds;176 and
    • re-vegetate exploration sites to a self-sustaining state with species appropriate for the site.177


Although BC laws require certain reclamation efforts, additional provisions could substantially improve the effectiveness of reclamation of areas disturbed by exploration activities.

Recommended Solutions

Backfill trenches by using overburden and bedrock and replacing vegetative mat

[Tags: Exploration; Reclamation; Trench]

In the Yukon, legal provisions clearly describe the backfill process required for excavation trenches. This process requires that trenches constructed with mechanized equipment be backfilled by first depositing any removed overburden and bedrock, and then replacing the vegetative mat that was removed to construct the trench.178

Require use of certain species for re-vegetation

[Tags: Exploration; Reclamation]

Although BC law recommends that species used to re-vegetate an area be suitable for the site, Saskatchewan law goes further in requiring that “all native seeds require a certificate of seed analysis to be submitted to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment for approval”. Saskatchewan also has publications on native species recommended for site restoration for the province’s different eco-regions.179

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