Tailings safety

Tailings storage is a significant part of the mining process, and it is widely recognised just how high the stakes are.

Tailings storage facilities (TSFs) store the unneeded metals, minerals, chemicals, organic compounds, and water used in the minerals separation process – materials that are often toxic, and which can have a devastating impact if they’re not properly contained and managed.

A catastrophic failure of the Vale dam in Brumadinho, Brazil resulted in the loss of some 250 lives, countless livelihoods and the significant environmental damage that comes from 12 million cubic metres of toxic tailings being released.

Decipher CEO, Anthony Walker explained that this was one of the culminating catalysts for a new global approach around tailings impoundment monitoring.

With an estimated 3,500 active TSFs across the globe covering approximately one million hectares of land, and an increasing number of failures occurring and being recorded, it was clear that a fresh look at the reporting and monitoring of these facilities was needed.

“We know there is good practice in the sector, but it is the corporate responsibility of all mining companies to ensure everything possible is being done to prevent further failures from occurring,” says Walker.

Just two days after the tragic event in Brazil, a group of investors co-led by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council of Ethics of the AP funds announced The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative.

The Initiative called upon 727 extractive mining companies to disclose information in relation to their TSFs to form a central independent portal and classification system enabling the public to monitor the safety risk of mining companies tailings dams.

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Twelve months on from the Brazil disaster, the Global Tailings Portal, built by Norway-based GRID-Arendal as part of the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, was launched at the Global Tailings Summit in London in January, 2020.

“Until recently, we had no clear indication on the number of facilities around the world, their locations or the quantity of tailings. Now thanks to the Global Tailings Portal, we have more transparency across the industry and greater insight into approximately 764 mine sites and 1,938 facilities.”

“Decipher is really excited by this concept and we believe we have the technology to make a positive contribution to the reporting and monitoring process,” explains Walker.

With the support of its parent company, the major Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers, Decipher reached out to GRID-Arendal offering to provide a no-cost integration between its award-winning platform and the new Global Tailings Portal.

The Decipher platform offers a comprehensive and functionally rich solution which combines a central repository for historic data, regulatory technology, environmental monitoring and evaluation tools including satellite derived earth observation data, stakeholder engagement, and a reporting suite.

“We saw the opportunity to apply this revolutionary technology to provide mining companies with key data driven information and insights around monitoring TSFs,” says Walker.

“It seamlessly integrates functionality and data across regulation technology and monitoring technology into one central platform to allow our clients to focus on compliance, best practice, integrated monitoring information and efficient decision making.”

Reflecting on the launch, Walker said Decipher has had a fantastic response to their tailings solution.

“We’ve welcomed a number of Tier 1 mining companies onboard and we continue to receive extremely positive feedback indicating that Decipher is an industry leading solution for tailings, data capture, monitoring, reporting and compliance with the Investor Initiative and other industry bodies”.

“We are one of the few companies to focus on rehabilitated sites and we’re really looking forward to working with our clients to continue adding to the database and reducing the risk of TSF failures,” he added.

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Professor Baker from the Director of the GRID-Arendal (Sydney Office) and one of the key driving forces behind the Global Tailings Portal, believes the portal could save lives.

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“The publicly listed mining companies were asked a series of questions which covered a range of topics including whether they had any tailings dams, type of construction, how much material was currently being stored and how much they estimate to store over the next five years, plans for closure, and provisions for the increase in extreme weather events. The portal now brings about a greater level of transparency,” says Professor Baker.

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