- Opinion piece written by Dr Chris Vernon, Research Director at CSIRO
- Learn more about the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative in this free webinar
Reactive measures do little to offer long term solutionsThe rise in problems with tailings management has not only led to tougher regulations and more attention but to a change of perspective from shareholders and local communities who are demanding companies do more to curtail these problems or risk losing funding and social license. Some locations have also introduced levies, charging operations for every tonne of tailings stored. Hundreds of millions of dollars can then need to be spent on rehabilitation and ongoing environmental monitoring at mine closure. Operations are aware of this and know that they can’t just keep doing what they’re doing. This has led many to investigate other options for their tailings, primarily:
- Repurposing – This includes amending tailings to have more soil-like properties, or inducing them to have sufficient stability for civil engineering purposes.
- Reprocessing – In their nature, tailings have no economic value (unless new extraction technologies or new markets become viable).
Keep tailings management front of mind, whatever stage of operationsThe way in which you manage your tailings will depend on the properties of the tailings themselves. That’s why it’s vital to look at a number of different options, depending on your stage of operations, the properties of your tailings, and whether those properties could be changed. For greenfields operations, it’s important to get early information about your tailings, and not relegate them as an afterthought. Decisions on processing flowsheets are made so early that by the time tailings properties are known, the flowsheet options are locked in place, and it could be too late to make any significant adjustment. Tailings are treated as an inconvenient consequence rather than being engineered, like the rest of the process. This needs to change, and for greenfields, selecting and designing a new flowsheet provides much more scope to be proactive on the implications for tailings. Considerations to make could include:
- can flotation circuits be operated in a way that sends less sulphide to tailings?
- can you leach with a lixiviant that is more benign?
- does tailings washing efficiently recycle lixiviant?
- can leaching or processing then be done at a more benign pH?
- can tailings be neutralised before disposal?
- can tailings be easily separated on the basis of particle size so that deposition in TSFs can take advantage of different placement of different particle sizes? and,
- can other potential products be removed, say to pay for better tailings storage, change the tailings properties, or reduce their volume?
Change your thinking, change your approach with help from usSo much of current tailings management is reactive, yet there’s considerable scope to be more proactive to minimise tailings volumes or improve the tailings properties through tested, proactive methods. Shifting the thinking from “what to do with tailings?” to “what can we do differently about how we produce tailings?” offers more long-term solutions, including:
- improved licence to operate. Investors and communities need to see transparent planning
- compliance with increasing government regulations.
- avoiding negative feelings (of communities and stakeholders) towards tailings and tailing storage, and
- improved safety outcomeseEconomic-friendly solutions.
- dewatering, in particular for high fines tailings
- hydrometallurgical process options, and
- characterisation, ore sorting, and selective mining.
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.
What did this mean for the mining companies?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.
How can companies prepare for the next round of reports?Launching the public database was the first step in providing transparency. The CoE and UNEP remain highly motivated to deliver change in the safe management of tailings facilities across the world, and as such will be making more calls for disclosures, and for the reports to be updated regularly.
Check out Decipher’s free webinar, The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative: What’s Next?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
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?
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
- Speak to our team for a free demo of our Tailings Monitoring solution
- See how our solutions help manage industry stakeholder engagement and operator and regulator compliance requirements here