Following last month’s tailings dam disaster at Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) Córrego do Feijão mining complex, which left at least 140 dead, Amsterdam-based Responsible Mining Foundation issued a statement highlighting the findings of its 2018 Responsible Mining Index report related to miners’ tailing dams.
According to the report, many of the world’s largest mining companies are not able to ‘know and show’ how effectively they are addressing the risks of tailings dam failure and seepage.
“The 30 mining companies assessed in RMI 2018 scored an average of only 22% on tracking, reviewing and acting to improve their tailings risk management, with Vale scoring slightly above average. Fifteen of the 30 companies showed no evidence of keeping track of how effectively they are addressing these risks. And while 17 companies showed some sign of reviewing the effectiveness of their tailings risk management measures, no evidence was found of any of these companies publicly disclosing the extent to which they have taken systematic action on the basis of these reviews, to improve how they address tailings-related risks,” the document reads.
— Julio_Vaisman (@VaismanJulio) February 6, 2019
The RMF states that the deficiencies many miners show when it comes to sharing information is not limited to their tailings dams. In general, the organization’s study found that most companies fail to adequately share information on how they are managing social and environmental risks. In particular, they fail to provide meaningful site-level performance information.
“Too often, workers, mining-affected communities, governments and investors are kept in the dark about the risks involved and how well companies are addressing these risks. Companies may be reticent to publicly reveal this potentially detrimental and sensitive information, yet it is workers and communities whose lives and livelihoods depend on adequate protection measures being in place,” the report reads.
The Responsible Mining Foundation is convinced that public disclosure would not only save thousands of lives but would also improve the safety of mining projects by allowing for the expert advice of the community which, in turn, would result in improved knowledge of the terrain.
Based on a 2001 report by the International Commission on Large Dams which found that 221 tailings dam failures could have been prevented, the RMF states that by really incorporating the input of all stakeholders in the design, planning and building phases of their projects, miners can learn to refrain from mining in areas where tailings dam failures are most likely to happen and achieve a shared zero-failure objective to tailings storage facilities.
The foundation’s research, on the other hand, has shown that failure risks are greatest for large, steep and old tailings dams in tropical zones where seismic activity and extreme weather events can precipitate dam collapses.
In the case of Vale’s facility, the RMF explained that it was built as part of a series of dams constructed upstream from the original dyke, which makes it the most likely type of tailings dam to fail.
“Vale has now committed to decommissioning all dams built by the upstream method and other companies can clearly follow suit,” the NGO suggested.