Group says tailings standards should consider existing facilities

December 9, 2019

As the Global Tailings Review group works to set standards, the chair of the group cautioned that the difficulties of making existing dams compliant should be considered.

Bruno Oberle is the chair of the Global Tailings Review, told Reuters, “We have to differentiate what we are requiring [for new and existing dams].”

His concerns are similar to those raised by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which raised concerns about how the new rules would apply equally to new and existing facilities. ICMM and other groups have objected to a proposed standard that would apply not only to the design of new dams, but also require existing dams to be modified - a retro-fitting process they claim may be technically impossible, and at the very least expensive and time-consuming.

“It is something that is not easy to phrase without making two completely different standards,” said Oberle.

The review was launched after a tailings dam owned by Vale collapsed in Brazil in January, killing hundreds and triggering calls for greater scrutiny of the dams.

Oberle said he is in talks with the ICMM and the other co-convenors, the U.N. Environment Programme and the Principles for Responsible Investment, to smooth out disagreements.

Oberle chairs an eight-person panel of experts which released draft standards for tailings dams on November 15 and launched a six-week public consultation on them.

The standards are set to be finalized by March. While the panel is independent, the three entities backing it must each approve the final findings.

Prior to Johannesburg the panel held in-country consultations in Kazakhstan’s capital Almaty, Beijing, Santiago, and Accra, the capital of Ghana. It was set to visit Perth, Kalgoorlie, and Brisbane from December 9 to 13.

South Africa was the first country they had visited where no representatives from government attended the tailings consultation, Oberle said.
One issue raised in all the consultations was how the global standard would mesh with local regulations, Oberle said. Another aspect that will need “more attention,” he said, is the management of closed tailings facilities.

 

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