SME’s MineXchange 2020 Annual Conference & Expo in Phoenix is underway; keynote focused on continuing tailings concerns and mitigation
Margo Ellis, Associate Editor
Anticipating a crowd of about 6,200 attendees, this year’s SME MineXchange Annual Conference and Expo officially began today with the tailings-centered keynote session marking a continued focus for the mining industry. Titled “The Executive’s Role in Tailings Management: Preserving our Social License to Operate,” the keynote was delivered to a packed ballroom who heard from panelists Nancy Case, Harry “Red” Conger, Daniel Connell and Dean Gehring — each representing various leadership roles at their respective companies, including The Mosaic Company, Freeport-McMoRan, Consol Energy and Newmont Corporation.
The presenters, whose expertise span several commodity interests, discussed in detail what changes in leadership have already been made and what steps can be taken in the future to prevent future tailings dams disasters. Although each speaker presented on different situations, facilities, processes and practices to managing the growing issue of tailings management, what emerged as a general theme from every speaker is an absolute need for upfront, transparent, diligent and responsible governing of how tailings are handled and maintained. Another critical development in recent years, and one that will continue to grow, is the use of technology in surveilling and managing tailings sites and impoundments, particularly those that are located in remote locations.
A statement that aptly captured the overall message of the keynote was along the lines of, “If one company has a failure, we all have a failure.” Taken as a whole, these tailings disasters are seen as a threat to the entire industry and the importance of tackling this problem together, across companies, commodities and countries, is crucial to finding working solutions.
Also referred to in the keynote was the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), who have co-convened an independent review that is in the process of finalizing an international standard on tailings storage facilities. The final release of this standard is due to be released by mid-2020.
The SME keynote presentation is followed by a five-session technical symposium titled “Mine Tailings: Perspectives for a Changing World,” which includes three full days of information and idea exchange on the state of the practice and the future of mine tailings management systems.