VICTORIA BEACH, Man. - British Columbia's Oil and Gas Commission says the province is the first in Western Canada to impose legal timelines for the restoration of oil and gas wells.

The commission says the regulation is part of a new liability management plan that ensures all the costs of reclaiming oil and gas sites continues to be paid by industry.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall says the changes address long-standing concerns raised by the public about orphaned wells.

The regulation enhances the commission's checks of a company's financial health and history to ease pressure on a fund that supports the reclamation of orphaned wells.

It says the regulation will also more quickly return inactive wells to their previous state, set a clean-up timeline and impose requirements for decommissioning wells.

The commission says about one per cent of some 25,000 oil and gas wells in B.C. are orphans that are restored through the industry-funded levy.

The commission says in a news release that a new liability levy to fund site restorations will be phased in over three years to ensure the commission has adequate funds to restore all orphan sites.

B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer warned in March that the number of inactive oil and gas wells that have not been properly decommissioned was rising, despite legislation that gave the commission more powers to speed the process.

Bellringer's report said contamination from oil and gas activity can affect human health, ecosystems, and water and air quality.

It said there were almost 7,500 inactive oil and gas wells in B.C. that hadn't been property decommissioned.