TSFs have been deployed in mining operations dating back to the 1930s, but much has changed in their 90+ year history. As the number of larger, more severe failings has grown, regulations governing TSFs have also evolved. For example, after a TSF dam failed and spilled more than 24 million cubic meters of waste water in British Columbia, Canada in 2014, the provincial government started requiring tailings management applications to include “best-available technologies and option for water balance to enhance safety and reduce the risk of a dam
For most public infrastructure projects (e.g., roads, bridges, water dams) a Design Engineer and Engineer of Record (EoR) are one and the same and this has been applied in a similar manner to TSFs. However TSFs don’t adhere to typical construction processes and typically apply an obversational method. In Canada in 2004, The Mount Polley tailings dam reportedly had five individuals serve as Engineer-of-Record (EoR) during a four-year period prior to the failure occuring. That incident served as the catalyst for review of the EoR concept by the mining industry and those that regulate it.
The Mining Association of Canada released Version 3.1 of the Tailings Guide in February 2019 which now has a greater focus on the preparation of emergency response plans following numerous global incidents. After the Brazilian dam failure discussed above, the Brazilian federal government passed a bill that made safety regulations more strict, including banning new construction of upstream tailings dams. Additionally, the Brazilian National Mining Agency set a deadline of August 15 2021 for decommissioning or removing existing upstream dams.
A global standard
The International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) is working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) on a global tailings review to establish an international standard for tailings storage facilities that addresses, but is not limited to:
- a global and transparent consequence-based tailings storage facility classification system with appropriate requirements for each level of classification
- a system for credible, independent reviews of tailings storage facilities
- requirements for emergency planning and preparedness
Lastly, in Australia, mining and TSF regulations are managed by individual states. In Tasmania, where three large mines operate, require mining companies to obtain rehabilitation bonds and have environmental management plans that outline waste handling, rehabilitation, and discharge. Conversely, South Australian regulatory bodies have opted to issue guidelines rather than regulations, focusing on “objective and risk management”.
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What are the global changes in TSF regulations?
As the number of larger, more severe tailings dam failures has grown, regulations governing TSFs have also evolved. The International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) is working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) on a global tailings review to establish an international standard for tailings storage facilities.