Expert Opinion Article by Dan Etheredge, General Manager, Klohn Crippen Berger S.A.

Tailings Management

April 16, 2021

Image courtesy of Klohn Crippen Berger S.A.

Klohn Crippen Berger S.A. (KCB) helped revolutionize the design of modern tailings facilities 60 years ago, and today provides solutions for some of the largest, most technically challenging tailings storage facilities in the world. KCB firmly believe that the release of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM) will help prevent further human and environmental tragedy through greater transparency and accountability in the mining industry.

The standard, released by the Global Tailings Review, was a joint effort by the International Council on Mining and Minerals (ICMM), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The standard was informed by existing best practice as well as findings and lessons learned from past dam failures. KCB supported the forensic failure assessments on the recent failures in Brazil, Australia and Canada, and the knowledge gained by KCB was reflected in KCB’s feedback on the standard and in our day-to-day practice.

One of the main impacts of the standard on the mining industry will be around transparency and accountability with the requirement for more public disclosure around how dams are designed and managed, and the risks they pose to downstream communities. The main driver of improvement in tailings management will be the increased scrutiny on, and accountability within, mine operators required by the Standard.

Historically, the mining industry has undergone fundamental shakeups in standard approaches to restore trust where it has been lost. Similar to the Bre-X fraud, where a Canadian mining company falsified mineral resource data to elevate the stock price, causing for the introduction of the NI 43-101 and industry change, something similar can be expected for tailings management.

The standard includes a requirement for an “Accountable Executive” and other named positions for the people who are taking ownership of tailings management and reporting issues up the chain of command. A need for a dedicated engineer or specialist on site, as well as an experienced, qualified engineer of record off-site, would also enhance accountability and transparency.

A major challenge in the future will be the lack of tailings engineers to facilitate the creation of the new roles required by the standard. The industry is already understaffed, with not a lot of engineers with 20-30+ years experience who can give the high level of care and advice that is often needed for the complex, hazardous structures. It takes a lot of exposure to different facilities and operations to understand the complexities of tailings dams, so the key challenge going forward will be to recruit the right talent and provide guidance and support for up-and-coming engineers.

KCB is fortunate that as a well-established, specialised firm, they have a large group of experienced professionals ready to help clients now and into the future.

For a company like KCB with an engineering approach that strives to be at the forefront of international best practice, it will be “business as usual” in terms of complying with the standard. For KCB, these approaches are already ingrained within our company policies, standards, and culture. Having been involved in developing the standard, KCB is well aware of what is required and are able to meet those expectations.

KCB in Peru have done extensive work throughout Latin America, as well as our other offices having experience in their jurisdictions, including our offices in Australia, Brazil, the US, the UK, and Canada, where the company was founded.

KCB is well known globally for tailings management with their forensic, review and dam safety work. Our profile has grown dramatically in Peru, Ecuador, and especially in Brazil over the last few years.

Tailings dam management is at the core of KCB services, with the company also offering groundwater management, geochemistry, surface water management and mine closure services to the mining industry.

 

 Expert Opinion Article by Dan Etheredge, General Manager, Klohn Crippen Berger S.A.

 

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