Canadian Mining Journal


TAILINGS: BHP looks to create international oversight for dams

BHP says it is stepping up its work to create an international and independent body to oversee integrity in the construction and operation of all tailings storage facilities across the industry.

The Australian company is also calling for greater transparency in tailings management disclosure. The goal is ensure that disclosure is applied consistently and improve better tailings dam stewardship.

BHP and its joint venture partner Vale suffered a tragic tailings dam failure in 2015 at the Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil. Operations there remain suspended as of press time today. BHP says it is still working to rebuild the affected communities and restore the environment.

And in 2014, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley copper mine in British Columbia failed. Cleanup costs were in the tens of millions of dollars, and without a strong copper price, owner Imperial Metals announced its decision last month to stop mining there.

Most recently was the failure of the dam at Vale’s Feijao iron ore mine in Brazil. The dead and missing number in the hundreds. Arrests have been made. Regulations have been changed. The effects of this disaster will be felt for decades.

Would oversight by an independent commission have prevented the disastrous dam burst earlier this month? Would being better stewards of tailings dams mean that potential problems are identified and remediated before failure could occur?

BHP has lofty goals when it urges global oversight and more transparency in tailings management. Such goals are needed if the mining industry is going to reach a higher level of safety regarding tails storage.

The Mining Association of Canada and the Canadian Dam Association published a guide to the management of tailings facilities in 2017. Their publication has been hailed as the most comprehensive of the existing protocols, and there is always room for improvement. This publication is a good place to start.

Click here to download a copy of the Guide to the Management of Tailings Facilities.