Industry experts come together on tailings dams
- Senior geotechnical engineer Linda Spies believes mining executives today require more assurance that their TSFs are safe with controls becoming much stricter
- While the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) event focused on recent failures, there was also an optimism flowing from the showcasing of best practice in the field and how this was being successfully applied
- Watch this FREE webinar to hear from the driving force behind the Global Tailings Portal
Safer tailings storage facilities (TSFs) – or tailings dams – can be achieved when mine owners, contractors and engineering consultants work closely together, according to SRK Consulting senior geotechnical engineer Linda Spies.
Speaking after a recent Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) conference focusing on tailings dams, Spies said that mining executives today required more assurance that their tailings dams are safe, with controls becoming much stricter. Greater transparency was also being demanded by other stakeholders such as investors and communities.
“After several hundred lives were lost in two well-publicised tailings dam failures in Brazil in 2015 and 2019, awareness of tailings dam risks has been raised within the mining industry and in the public eye globally,” she said.
“These latest failures were especially significant insofar as senior management at the mining companies were for the first time being implicated directly with charges of manslaughter and environmental damage.”
She noted that while conferences on this topic usually involved mainly tailings dam practitioners and academics, this event had strong representation from owners, contractors, who are responsible for tailings dam construction, and consultants, who design TSFs and monitor their construction.
“This meant that the discussion was more holistic and valuable, enriched with insights from these various perspectives,” she said. “This is vital in promoting innovation, safety and environmental and social responsibility in the design, operation and closure of tailings dams.”
While the tone of the event was serious in light of recent failures, there was also an optimism flowing from the showcasing of best practice in the field and how this was being successfully applied. In her own case study presentation on a lined tailings dam at a South African platinum mine, Spies highlighted the complexities introduced by the liner requirement – and how good drainage design and quality assurance were an important part of the solution.
Among the key issues discussed at the conference was whether upstream tailings dams should be allowed – as this was one of the commonalities in the recent Brazilian failures. High-level input was given in a panel discussion by senior leaders from a mining company, a law firm and an insurance firm, including technical opinions from tailings industry expert and specialist geotechnical engineer Adriaan Meintjes, a partner and corporate consultant from SRK.
According to SRK principal hydrogeologist and numerical modeller Sheila Imrie, who also presented at the event, tailings is rightly receiving considerable attention from a combined engineering and scientific perspective and will continue to do so in the future.
“The continued application of the latest technologies by the industry’s top experts is critical,” said Imrie. “Industry must also ensure that sufficiently detailed research, monitoring and numerical modelling informs the future design and current management of tailings dams.”
She presented a paper on ‘3D Seepage Modelling in Tailings Storage Facility Analysis and Design for Low Permeability Lined Basins’ with SRK colleague civil engineer Wesley Rouncivell. A key to the safe operation of tailings dams into the future involves comprehensive and rigorous monitoring of these facilities on a regular and real-time basis.
Originally published by Mining Weekly.
What is the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative?
Just days after the Brumadinho dam collapse, a group of investors co-led by the Church of England (CoE) Pensions Board and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) announced the Investor Mining and Tailings Initiative, calling on 727 extractive mining companies to disclose information on their tailings facilities to form a global independent database.On the one year anniversary, the group launched the first public database on tailings storage facilities (TSF). Prior to that, there had been no central database detailing the location and quantity of tailings, and as a result, no clear indication on the number of tailings around the world.
What did this mean for the mining companies?
This presented mining companies with a massive challenge of assembling data-sets that were often large, complex and stored in several locations, or even lost with corporate knowledge loss.
One company estimated that it took one person (per site), six weeks to collect and prepare the data.
How can companies prepare for the next round of reports?
Launching the public database was the first step in providing transparency. The CoE and UNEP remain highly motivated to deliver change in the safe management of tailings facilities across the world, and as such will be making more calls for disclosures, and for the reports to be updated regularly.
Decipher is hosting a webinar, The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative: What’s Next?
Hear from one of the driving forces behind the database and learn about:
- The Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative (insights, key findings, what’s coming, and how to prepare for the next round of questions)
- The upcoming global tailings standards
- Best practices and recommendations
- Available reporting and monitoring tools
What is the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative?
Following the recent tailings dam failures, The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative was established by a group of institutional investors active in the extractive industries representing more than $13.1 trillion in assets under management. Governed through a Steering Committee chaired by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council of Ethics of the AP Funds, the group has called upon 727 extractive mining companies to disclose information in relation to their tailings storage facilities to form an online database.
How many companies have disclosed information about their TSFs?
As of the 20th of December 2019, 46 per cent of companies contacted responded to the request. 40 of the top 50 mining companies have made disclosures which has resulted in information about thousands of individual tailings dams being made public on company websites. All 23 of 23 publicly owned companies that are members of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) responded and fully disclosed information about their TSFs.
How many tailings dams have had stability issues?
Company disclosures to investors have revealed that 10% (166 out of 1,635) of the tailings dams reported to have had stability issues in their history.
What tailings reporting and monitoring tools are available?
Using Decipher, you can start to organise and store your tailings storage facility data in the one place, making it easier to prepare for the next round of Church of England reports:
– Easily visualise all of your sites and simply click on the dams to see all of the relevant data and reports
– Reduce confusion, human error, and inefficiencies in reporting by providing internal stakeholders with a central repository of data on your tailings facilities
– Access key data and information from multiple departments to take a holistic approach to your tailings reporting and monitoring
– Reduce the time spent and associated costs preparing reports by creating templates which extract relevant information in a particular format, such as the Church of England report
– Decipher is designed to be securely accessed by industry, regulators, designers and operators involved in the management of TSFs. Easily setup security access levels to ensure stakeholders only see information that is relevant to them, and apply business rules, approval layers and track changes to ensure data is correct
– A Single Sign-On (SSO) integration also ensures that users are managed more easily
Request a demo of Decipher’s TSF Monitoring & Reporting tool
- Speak to our team for a free demo of our Tailings Monitoring solution
- See how our solutions help manage industry stakeholder engagement and operator and regulator compliance requirements here
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