BHP unveils ‘tailings taskforce’ following Brazil incidents

Minas Gerais firefighters search for survivors after the Brumadinho disaster in January. Image: Flickr/Romerito Pontes

BHP has established a ‘Tailings Taskforce’ as part of its increased focus on the risk management of tailings in the wake of the dam disasters in Brazil.

In an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report, BHP outlined that the tragedy had “further strengthened (its) resolve”, leading to the creation of the taskforce.

The taskforce itself will be accountable for enhancing the company’s focus on tailings, including the continued improvement and assurance of operated tailings storage facilities.

It will also include progressing the technology efforts and leading ongoing participation in the setting of new international tailings management standards.

BHP has also ramped up its tailings technology and research and development (R&D) in order to improve early detection methods and monitoring of its tailings.

This includes a digital twin model developed over two years for R&D in real-time prediction on dam health. It also includes a three-year geomatics satellite, which senses dam movement for early warning.

The creation of the taskforce followed BHP’s 2016 dam risk review, which was undertaken to assess the management of tailings facilities following the failure of the Fundao dam at Samarco.

While no immediate concern regarding dam integrity was found, the review did highlight the dynamic nature of tailings dams and that they required ongoing monitoring.

BHP revealed its approach to risk management of dam integrity, which focuses on a multi-dimensional process that involves continuous assessment.

The steps outlined include maintenance integrity, governance of dam facilities, monitoring, surveillance and review and emergency preparedness and response.

BHP also has welcomed a common, international and independent body to oversee the integrity of construction and operation of all tailings storage facilities across the industry.

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