Canadian miners subject to tougher tailings standards

Tailings pond at Teck Resources’ Antamina copper-zinc mine in Peru. (Image courtesy of Paulo Tomaz |Flickr Commons.)

Canadian miners are now subject to tougher scrutiny when it comes to tailings management as the body representing the sector has updated existing standards to meet or exceed most global guidelines.

The Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) move was triggered by the publication last year of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), a set of guidelines that aims at achieving zero harm to people and the environment.

The MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) standard, first announced in 2004, remains a globally recognized sustainability program that supports mining companies in managing key environmental and social risks.

It was the world’s first mining sustainability standard to require site-level assessments of eight critical aspects of social and environmental performance and is mandatory for all members.

Among the adjustments, the Canadian standard now takes a more comprehensive approach to identifying and addressing human and community rights and benefits.

“The TSM Tailings Standard now meets or exceeds the majority of the Global Standard’s requirements”

Pierre Gratton, MAC’s President and CEO

“Effective tailings management is rightly being prioritized more than ever to ensure that stakeholders, communities surrounding mine sites, investors and the general public can have confidence in how mining operations are being run,” the association said.

Pierre Gratton, MAC’s President and CEO said the publication of global standards by the United Nations Environment Program, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the International Council on Metals and Mining (ICMM) last year, provided opportunities to further strengthen the body’s guidance and TSM requirements.

“We also found that, in many respects, TSM is more detailed and rigorous than the global standard and is a surer guarantee of the safe management of tailings facilities,” Gratton said.

As an example, Gratton noted the GISTM has three high-level requirements related to developing and implementing an operation, maintenance and surveillance (OMS) manual for tailings facilities. TSM identifies more than 120 items that must be addressed to be in conformance. 

To further align with the  global industry standard, MAC is also expanding the application of its TSM Tailings Management Protocol to closed and inactive sites. 

TSM does not fully address elements of the GISTM related to the planning, design, and initial construction of new tailings facilities. In addition to guidance in the MAC Tailings Guide, MAC members also rely upon the internationally recognized and respected Canadian Dam Association safety guidelines and tailings dam bulletins. 

“Robust system”

“With the growth and expansion of TSM internationally, including its adoption most recently by the Minerals Council of Australia, we now have a robust system for ensuring the promotion and implementation of best practices in tailings management the world over,” Gratton said.

Global miners face mounting investor pressure to improve relations with indigenous communities after the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in Australia by Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) last year.

Canada’s Attawapiskat First Nation on Tuesday voiced its concerns about the construction of a new mine landfill near the community, being proposed by diamond miner giant DeBeers.

They said they fear another “Juukan Gorge” disaster is brewing, adding they want to alert De Beers’ shareholders to be aware, before decisions are made.

The world’s top diamond producer by value noted the proposed landfill would, if approved, be located within the existing approved mine footprint. This means it would be inside an existing approved mine rock pile, which has not been identified in the past by the community as being of cultural or heritage significance.

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