The controversial issue of Tailings Storage Facilities (TSF) construction and management following a spate of disasters over the last 24 months was unpacked during a breakfast discussion by leading mining services companies Fraser Alexander, Knight Piesold and Webber Wentzel on the sidelines of the annual Investing in Africa Mining Indaba event in Cape Town this week.

Hosted by leading, African-focused mining trade journal Mining Review Africa, the discussion focused on the importance of integrated TSF management and attracting investment while containing risk.

The mining industry will never be the same again following an iron ore tailings dam failure in Brazil in January 2019. As a result, far greater transparency is being requested by investors and insurers with regards to TSF management structures, in addition to requirements by regulators and broader stakeholders.

Regulators are reviewing their guidelines and minimum requirements for design, operation and closure of tailings facilities. This includes international groups such as the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD) and the International Council for Mining and Metallurgy (ICMM).

Building on and unpacking this topic in far greater detail, the TSF breakfast discussion was led by:

– John Wates, Chairman, Fraser Alexander
– Andrew Copeland, Technical Director, Knight Piésold Southern Africa
– Rashaad Carrim, Partner, Webber Wentzel
– Le Roux van den Berg, Loss Adjuster, Lloyd Warwick

The discussion focused specifically on the following aspects:
• strategic risks facing organisation executives
• factors to determine appropriate executive level oversight
• potential shareholder liability
• investor interest and compliance oversight
• role of insurers in limiting risks

Highlights from discussion:

John Wates, Chairman, Fraser Alexander
: “Public awareness of the risks associated with tailings dams is at an all-time high and stakeholders are now, more than ever, interested in the way in which the mining industry is going to respond.

The response is certain to include tighter standards but these standards will not, in themselves, be sufficient. Stakeholders expect improved performance and a reduction in the frequency and severity of failures.

This will require elevation of tailings risk management to board level in order to position mining companies to demonstrate tangible and visible reduction in risk levels.”

Andrew Copeland, Technical Director, Knight Piésold Southern Africa stressed: “The Consulting industry has an important part to play in ensuring that TSFs are properly designed and then in partnership with the operator, that they are correctly constructed, commissioned, operated and closed.

Many Tailings guidelines have been revised to improve holistic management of TSFs, including technical, social, environmental and governance responsibilities, with ultimate responsibility at an executive level.

“The key risks for achieve safe and stable tailings facilities are extreme rainfall and seismic events. These are infrequent events, but if they do happen, the TSF must be designed to withstand them, in particular the possibility of liquefaction. Dam breach assessments are now mandatory, to understand the potential zone of influence of a failure. KP is well positioned to undertake such tasks.”

Rashaad Carrim, Partner, Webber Wentzel, explained: “Socially responsible investing is not just a passing fad! This may have been initiated by institutional investors, however, this has resonated and taken hold with the new generation of ordinary investors. Brumadinho was not just a landslide of waste material but an avalanche of investor activism!”

The poor legacy mining often leaves will take some time to reverse, largely because it has been impacted by unscrupulous operators who take short-cuts in less regulated countries.

This can be stopped by withholding investment to such companies and/or by stopping the purchase of their concentrate or mineral.

It is up to the industry to pull together internationally on this count and Fraser Alexander, Knight Piesold and Webber Wentzel have positioned themselves to bring the mining industry into an era that reduces risks associated with TSFs.