Mining giants reveal tailings storage facility details

Global mining companies have responded to requests to give greater disclosure of details relating to their tailings storage facilities (TSFs).

The details were requested by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council on Ethics for the AP funds, representing 96 institutional investors.

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

BHP, Anglo American, Gold Fields and Vale were among the leading companies that presented information on TSFs, with Vale most notably investing heavily in the safety of its facilities.

Vale outlined it would spend $US1.9 billion ($2.73 billion) in the decommissioning of upstream dams with the company’s chief executive officer Eduardo Bartolomeo emphasising it will continue to support communities affected by its tailings disasters.

“As the company has demonstrated over recent months, we have not spared – and will not spare – resources or efforts to repair any damages caused to the families involved, to the infrastructure of the communities and to the environment,” he said.

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,” he said.

He also said the company was focusing on advancing technology to reduce waste.

“Looking to the future, we are working on a number of technologies that we expect to significantly reduce the volume of waste material we produce through our activities, and our ability to remove water from that material and store it in drier form – improving its stability and further reducing associated risks,” 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.

The mining industry has continued to ramp up its focus on the safety of TSFs following Vale’s Brumadinho disaster in January.