Mining companies held accountable for tailings facilities

Tailings dam breaches are a major risk factor in mining.

The mining industry has responded to investors’ demand to increase the disclosure of information regarding tailings storage facilities (TSFs).

Vale has led the way in ramping up the monitoring of its TSFs following the Brumadinho dam failure in Brazil.

The company announced it will invest $US1.9 billion ($2.73 billion) for the decommissioning of upstream dams, with Vale’s chief executive officer Eduardo Bartolomeo saying the move reaffirms the company’s priorities of “safety, people and repair.”

The announcement comes as global mining companies were requested to reveal details of TSFs by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council on Ethics for the AP funds, representing 96 institutional investors.

Companies were given 45 business days to disclose a list of all tailings facilities, so investors could analyse the risk that the facilities represented.

Anglo American outlined details of its 91 managed TSFs and an additional 62 TSFs at non-managed joint venture operations in which it has an interest.

Company chief executive Mark Cutifani said the information highlights the company’s focus on the safety of its TSFs, after revising and updating its TSF safety management in early 2014.

“We have confidence in the integrity of Anglo American’s managed TSFs which are subject to the highest global safety and stewardship standards, using appropriate advanced technologies such as satellite monitoring, fibre optics and micro-seismic sensors,” Cutifani said.

Companies were also asked to reveal the hazard categorisation of TSF facilities, were they to fail, with the rating being dependent on the damage incurred.

BHP revealed that eight of its TSFs have ‘extreme’ consequences, meaning that failure could result in over 100 deaths alongside major damage to the environment, infrastructure and the economy.

Three of these TSFs were at its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, where two are active, and another at its West Australian Whaleback iron ore operations. BHP responded by creating its own ‘tailings taskforce’ to investigate and monitor its TSFs.

Gold Fields also came out in support of greater transparency in the mining sector on tailings management, which currently manages 32 tailings facilities, of which 12 are active.

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