McLennan Ross Environmental Release Reporting Series Part 2: Best Practices for Pre-Release Planning

This article is the second in a three-part series intended to provide the reader with a basic understanding of:

  • environmental reporting obligations and the consequences for failing to meet those obligations;
  • best practices for pre-release planning; and
  • information about what to expect after an unauthorized release has been reported.

Last time, we provided a general overview of environmental release reporting obligations, with a focus on Alberta legislation. This article focuses on best practices for pre-release planning, again with an Alberta focus. 

It is important to note that this article series will be addressing releases purely from the environmental law perspective. This article is not an appropriate replacement for robust, site-specific protocols for release prevention and response, which should include many other considerations, such as occupational health and safety issues and, of course, appropriate emergency response measures and clean-up activities. Nor is it a substitute for legal advice in the wake of a release.

Have a Plan
Developing and implementing a Release Reporting Protocol, which includes arming the appropriate personnel with the necessary skills and authority to implement the Protocol, will help to ensure that reporting requirements are met in a safe and timely fashion.

Potential first-responders should be familiar with the Release Reporting Protocol, prior to the release occurring. Appropriate training, development of written materials, and regular follow-up (including drills) should all be incorporated into the implementation of the Protocol. In addition to all required personnel, you should involve your legal counsel in the drafting of the Protocol and ensure that his or her contact information is available to those tasked with implementing the Protocol should a release occur.

Designate a “Communications Coordinator”
Depending on the size and nature of your operations, you may have one or more “Communications Coordinators” for each facility and/or aspect of operations which may give rise to a release.

This person should be identified and trained in the Protocol prior to the unauthorized release occurring. All personnel should know in advance who the Communications Coordinator is and should know how to contact them, if necessary.

Ideally, the Communications Coordinator:

  • is a person in a senior management position;
  • is familiar with reporting obligations; and
  • has authority to speak on behalf of the company.

It is important to designate a sufficient number of alternate Communications Coordinators to provide coverage over holidays, illnesses, or other absences.

Control Your Message
The Communications Coordinator should act as the initial spokesperson. All information given to the authorities should flow through the Communications Coordinator.

Unless there are pressing safety concerns, all information given to any affected third parties should also flow through the Communications Coordinator.

Be Prepared
Should an unauthorized release occur, the Communications Coordinator will need to inform him or herself with some basic information prior to reporting the release. The Communications Coordinator should have a good understanding in advance of what information will need to be collected, and how he or she can obtain that information.

For example, when reporting a release under section 11 of Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Communications Coordinator is expected to provide the following information to the regulator (provided the information is known or can be readily obtained):

  • the location and time of the unauthorized release;
  • a description of the circumstances leading up to the unauthorized release;
  • the type and quantity of the substance released;
  • the details of any action taken and proposed to be taken at the release site; and
  • a description of the location of the unauthorized release and the immediately surrounding area.

Of course, the legislation has other requirements, and other statutes have various reporting and informational requirements.

Further, should such a release occur, the Communications Coordinator should work with legal counsel to ensure that all required reporting is completed as required and on a timely basis. Complying with your reporting obligations will not relieve you of the consequences that may flow from the release itself, but it will avoid the risk of additional charges for failing to report the release.

Keep Good Notes
It is imperative that the Communications Coordinator maintain a timely and accurate record of his/her reporting activities. The record should include the above information, as well as:

  • when the release was brought to the Communication Coordinator’s attention;
  • to whom the release was reported, and when;
  • any additional information reported.

Similar records should be kept if the release is reported to any affected third parties.

Ensuring that you and your staff are as prepared as possible will minimize the risk of harm to human health and the environment.

Next Time: What to Expect After You Report a Release