BHP publish Samarco dam failure findings

A panel commissioned to investigate the cause of BHP and Vale’s Samarco mine dam failure have released their findings.

The panel, comprising four geotechnical specialists – Norbert Morgenstern, Steven G. Vick, Bryan D. Watts and Cássio Viotti – was created by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton to investigate the tailings dam failure incident which occurred late last year at the Brazilian iron ore mine and claimed 19 lives, flooded rivers and villages in the Minas Gerias and Espirito Santo states, and even reached the Atlantic Ocean.

The report investigated the causes leading up to the event, and how it occurred, as well as other contributory factors.

“In November 2015, BHP Billiton committed to making the findings of this investigation public, and we are determined to learn from this tragedy” Dean Dalla Valle, BHP’s COO said.

“This important technical study will improve our understanding of what happened at Samarco. We have shared these findings so that the sector can learn from the dam failure and develop and implement further standards that can help prevent a similar event like this happening again.”

Off the back of the official report, BHP also carried out its own internal investigation.

“In the wake of this event, we have separately undertaken a comprehensive review of our significant dams, which has confirmed that those dams are stable.  We will take a number of actions to further enhance risk management at these facilities,” Dalla Valle said.

“We have looked comprehensively at tailings dam management and benchmarked to global leading practice. We have assessed our portfolio of dams against these global standards and are implementing actions to enhance the management of our dams.”

This action includes creating a “centralised dam management function that will bring additional specialist expertise in-house”, and implementing best practice in dam management – in this case the process for dam safety reviews developed by the Canadian Dam Association – at all of its assets globally.

“Separately, BHP Billiton has contributed to a review initiated by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) into tailings management that will provide the industry with guidance to better manage the risks associated with tailings facilities,” BHP added.

As part of its wider investigation, BHP has also announced it will review “non-operated minerals joint ventures in our portfolio to identify any opportunities for enhancement, and to assess the optimal structure and approach”.

“As an interim step, BHP Billiton will centralise management of all major non-operated minerals joint ventures in the Minerals Americas operating group,” the miner said.

“In addition, we will enhance the application of risk management processes and establish a new BHP Billiton global standard for non-operated minerals joint ventures.”

Since the initial incident, the two joint venture partners BHP and Vale have faced a swathe of lawsuits – both criminal and civil – claiming property and environmental damage.

To date the Samarco joint venture has reached settlement with the Brazilian government for a minimum of $US1.7 billion over six years, although it reportedly still faces separate civil proceedings seeking compensation for social, environmental, and economic damages totalling $58 billion brought against it by Brazil’s government.

However it has seen a $7.8 billion civil suit against by brought by the National Humanitarian Society (Sohumana) dismissed.

To read the investigation in full and see the findings, click here.