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Tailings management: What has changed since Brumadinho?

Mining & Resources / Tailings Storage Facilities

Tailings management: What has changed since Brumadinho?

Key points:

  • The latest research by the Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF), published in the RMI Report 2020, reveals that while an investor-led initiative has resulted in improved transparency about companies’ tailings storage facilities (TSF), the vast majority of companies are still unable to demonstrate that they are reviewing how effectively they are managing TSF-related risks and taking responsive actions where necessary. And critically, very few mine sites show evidence of having informed local communities about what to do in the case of a tailings-related incident.
  • Learn more about the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative in this free webinar

FAQ

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.

How can companies prepare for the next round of reports from the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative?

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. Decipher CEO, Anthony Walker suggests that mining companies start to collect and store their TSF data in one central location, enabling them to adhere to data requests efficiently.

What technology is available to help with the reporting and monitoring of TSFs?

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Decipher's Tailings solution enables you to bring together a variety of tailings data in the one location which is otherwise managed by a number of teams in disparate systems, and allows you to easily visualise your GIS and operational data on the map. Decipher is designed to provide you with key data and insights, enabling you to effectively monitor your TSF and your environmental obligations and compliance. The solution can be securely accessed by industry, regulators, designers and operators involved in the management of TSFs. Decipher offers a comprehensive and functionally rich solution which combines regulatory, mining waste management, stakeholder engagement, environmental monitoring, and environmental management system (EMS) tools to assist with tailings management.

As concentrations of valuable ore continue to decrease in mines around the world, the mining industry has to cope with the enormous volumes of residual waste – known as tailings – it generates as outputs of its complex chemical processes. Typically piped into large surface impoundments and held in place by earthen dams, stored tailings pose by far mining’s greatest risk of severe impacts.

While the scale and consequences of the Brumadinho dam failure last year were extreme, other tailings dam failures have occurred on a regular basis over the past two years in countries such as Brazil, Peru, Russia, Australia and China, and the incidence rate of such failures has been increasing for some time. And the RMI Report 2018 results on tailings showed that the operating company Vale was performing no worse than the vast majority of other large companies in tracking, reviewing and acting to improve its tailings risk management.

The Brumadinho disaster generated a flurry of industry statements and media interest on tailings safety, but has anything really changed since 2018 and are such catastrophic failures any less likely to happen in the future?

The latest research by the Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF), published in the RMI Report 2020, reveals that while an investor-led initiative has resulted in improved transparency about companies’ tailings storage facilities (TSF), the vast majority of companies are still unable to demonstrate that they are reviewing how effectively they are managing TSF-related risks and taking responsive actions where necessary. And critically, very few mine sites show evidence of having informed local communities about what to do in the case of a tailings-related incident.

Commenting on the release of the RMI Report 2020, Dr Bruno Oberle, Chair of the Global Tailings Review, said:

As more companies now disclose data on the locations and characteristics of their mine tailings storage facilities, the RMI Report 2020 shines a light on the lack of public information with regards to how effectively these facilities are managed by mining companies. As the Global Tailings Review continues, the results of the RMI Report 2020 further reinforce the urgent need to create a global standard that will deliver a step change in the safe management of tailings facilities across the industry.

 

Dr Bruno Oberle, Chair of the Global Tailings Review

 

More publicly-available information on tailings storage facilities

Prior to the Brumadinho disaster there was no global public register of TSF, and mining companies were generally not publicly disclosing even the location of their TSF let alone information on the safety of these facilities – information of critical interest to shareholders, investors, insurers and governments as well as communities and workers.

In response, a group of investors, led by the Church of England Pensions Board and Swedish Council of Ethics of the AP Funds, established the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety and requested over 700 extractive companies to publicly share such information. Approximately 50% of the companies responded, including 45 of the 50 biggest mining companies.

This has significantly improved the availability of basic data on TSF – the RMI Report 2020 found that nearly half of the 38 companies assessed had publicly disclosed the number and exact location of their TSF (see Figure 1), mostly through their response to the investor request.

 

Increasingly heavy reliance on risky structures

These recent TSF disclosures have revealed a worrying trend: according to the information available, companies are planning to increase the volume of tailings stored in upstream-constructed TSF (the type of dam that failed in Brumadinho), meaning an increase from 24% to 30% of all tailings will be stored in these structures – 92% of which are currently classified as having a High hazard potential.

 

No improvement in companies tracking the effectiveness of their tailings risk management

As was the case in the RMI Report 2018, only a handful of the 38 companies assessed in the RMI Report 2020 show evidence of having conducted third-party audits or reviews of the effectiveness of their TSF management, and these reviews are often quite limited in scope. Even fewer companies show evidence of having taken responsive actions on the basis of these reviews in order to improve their performance on managing TSF-related risks. In fact, as Figure 2 shows, no company scored more than 50% on this indicator.

If companies cannot ‘know and show’ how they are doing on preventing tailings dam failures and other TSF problems such as seepage, they will find it difficult to address the trust deficit commonly found in mining areas and the concerns about TSF risks among investors and financiers, governments and other stakeholders.

 

Lack of local information on risks and emergency procedures in the case of tailings incidents

The RMI Report 2020 found that less than 10% of the 180 mine sites assessed publicly disclose the area potentially affected by a failure of its tailings facilities.

Furthermore, very few mine sites demonstrate that they have informed local communities of what to do in the case of a tailings-related incident. See Figure 3 for details.

Strong disclosure of such information, of potential life-or-death importance to local stakeholders, should of course be the norm.

Recommendations for strengthening the forthcoming Global Tailings Standard

A new global standard on tailings management is currently being finalised by a multi-stakeholder group, the Global Tailings Review, co-convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM).

The Global Tailings Standard is certainly a welcome first step, but it is of critical importance not to miss this opportunity to significantly raise the bar on tailings management by ensuring the standard adequately addresses key issues of transparency, engagement and respect for local stakeholders living and working with the risks of TSF failure.

As the process is currently underway to finalise this new norm, RMF strongly recommends that the standard sets out clear requirements on the following points:

  • Open data formats to manage risk: Companies should disclose publicly and at the level of individual mine sites all public-interest data on their management of TSF, the safety of these structures, and the emergency preparedness procedures to follow in case of TSF failure. This data is crucial for investors and financiers, governments and local stakeholders.
  • Meaningful engagement with local stakeholders: Companies should undertake upfront and ongoing engagement measures to be clear with local stakeholders (communities, workers) about the risks and potential impacts in the event of failure and to involve local stakeholders in designing and testing emergency preparedness plans.
  • Strong measures to address existing high-risk TSF: Companies should ensure the safety of their existing TSF, and where necessary to decommission and remove TSF that cannot be made safe. These provisions should apply to any TSF the failure of which is expected to lead to any loss of life.
  • Broader accountability for TSF risk management: Companies should assign broader senior-level responsibility for the safety of tailings facilities, to include not only a member of senior management but also the Board of Directors.
  • Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC): In line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, respecting the right to FPIC of Indigenous Peoples should be mandatory during all stages of planning, design and implementation. Beyond this internationally-recognised right to give consent or not, the standard could better align with the widespread recognition that the principle of FPIC be applied more broadly, by requiring companies to ask for FPIC from all potentially-impacted communities.
  • Lake, riverine and marine disposal of tailings: In line with the growing momentum among international banks and multi-lateral lenders, the standard should ban the use of these disposal methods and require formal company-wide commitments to not use these methods. The RMI Report 2020 found that at least eight of the assessed companies are actively discharging tailings into rivers or marine environments or storing them on the seabed. And only one company has formally committed to not use such disposal methods.

 

Originally published by Responsible Mining Foundation

 


Learn more about The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative in this free webinar

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

Watch this FREE webinar

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FAQ:

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?

Tailings Storage Facilities - TSF - Mining - Decipher - DecipherGreen - Tailings management - tailings dam monitoring - tailings storage facility software - environmental obligations software - Church of England Tailings reports

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


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