Defining a Spill of Unknown Origin

A spill of unknown origin or orphan spill is a release of hydrocarbon and/or other deleterious substance into the environment that cannot be attributed to the party that released the substance; the release is likely intentional and is an illegal act.

Although WCSS has no legal obligation to be involved in the cleanup of spills of unknown origin, its shareholders agreed that the Oil Spill Cooperatives would assist the lead provincial regulators under the following conditions:

  • The process outlined in this document is followed by the regulator and Cooperative representative.
  • The spilled material is believed to be an upstream petroleum product.
  • The spill is not connected to a licensee’s lease, access road and/or facility.
  • Funding is available and approved jointly by the AER and WCSS.

Process: Initial Response

  • The spill of unknown origin is reported to the AER or appropriate regulatory agency.
  • The provincial regulator determines if the spill can be attributed to the licensee(s) in the area and if it can be the regulator requests that that licensee(s) take corrective action.
  • If the spill is an upstream petroleum product and cannot be attributed to an area licensee(s) the provincial regulator may call a representative of the Area Cooperative and/or the WCSS Headquarters and ask for assistance.

WCSS Process

  • The Oil Spill Cooperative representative will contact WCSS HQ (Operations Manager or President & COO) and quickly review the request from the regulator.
  • If the containment and recovery operation is already underway to minimize the impact of the spill, the Cooperative will advise HQ at the first opportunity.
  • WCSS HQ will contact the provincial regulator and verify that WCSS’ assistance is appropriate and funding is available to proceed.

WCSS Response

  • The Cooperative representative will develop a brief incident action plan in consultation with the provincial regulator; in most cases the WCSS Operations Manager and/or delegate will be in close contact with the Cooperative representative and in some cases will also assist directly with the response.
  • The WCSS representative will coordinate the response on behalf of the provincial regulator.
  • The WCSS representative will document the spill and all aspects of the spill response.
  • All invoices linked to the response will be forwarded to WCSS HQ for review and payment.


WCSS will pay for direct costs of service providers that are involved in the cleanup and/or disposal of material provided that invoices are submitted with detailed back-up and they are signed-off by the WCSS representative. WCSS will not pay for the time and/or direct expenses of Coop volunteers that are responding on behalf of their company, regulators and others that may be involved in the monitoring and/or other aspects of the response that are not linked to the direct cleanup and recovery operation.