Samarco Dam Faiure Losses Now Put at $2.7-$3.5billion 660km Swath of Loss

The first images which became available over night  in the hours immediately after the November 5 2015 collapse of two of three tailings dams at its  Alegria Mine complex  in the  State of Minas Gerais  Brazil.are horrific and apocalyptic.  Five-year-old  Emanuely Fernandes was swept out of her fathers arms as he tried to outrun the slide, her body found 40 km downstream.

residents reacting to landslide caused by failure or germano mine tailings dams

Before it was swept away, it was an old well established and  very beautiful area .

old benito rodrigue before the flood

Now it is literally gone.


By the 22nd of November the flow reached the Atlantic just north of Rio De Janeiro 600km downstream of the failed Fundao dam coating beaches and the oceans surface with dead fish.

Two other very large dams in the complex were impacted and being shored up.  Initially BHP had reported failures of both the Fundao and a smaller older dam downstream, the Santorem.

Both the Fundao and one other dam in the complex were under construction to increase capacity through additional height just before the collapse.

A Wall Street Journal article November 24 confirms earlier reports that Vale had also been using the Fundao tailings dam but Vale spokespeople claim it was less than 5%.on an annual basis

This 2010 Vale technical report independently  reconfirming Samarco’s reported reserves indicates a concern about adequate space within the  Alegria complex for the waste that  would be created in the planned expansion and step up in annual production  .

Of greater interest relative to potential impacts to the stated reserves is the surface use status of the future waste disposal area which is a private property preservation area established under Federal law to conserve ecological processes, biodiversity and for protection of flora and fauna

At the time of this report the Fundao dam was already constructed.

The firm Geoesteval was in charge of the master plan to solve Samarcos space problems for waste management according to their website.

This is joint owner BHP Billiton’s  second association with a catastrophic tailings dam failure in modern history.(OK Tedi Papua New Guinea)

bhp ok tedi taiingsdam failure

Source Papua New Guinea Mine Watch BHP’s OK TEDI Dam Failure

“When we start mucking around with the basic rules and the basic principles of the mining industry, that is when we allow the possibility for shortcuts and wrong interpretations to flow into the equation, and that often leads to a disaster.”  Neville Rockhouse

Neville Rockhouse was the safety manager at  the Pike River  mine in New Zealand and the father of  one of the 29 killed in that disaster 5 years go November 19.

In the years since the disaster, Mr Rockhouse has emerged as a campaigner for safety and corporate responsibility.  His quote, above to Sydney Herald journalist Peter Ker points in the right direction for ongoing inquiry on this disaster.

Key Questions Are Whether Height, Rate Of Raise, Slope and Deposition Procedures In Accordance with Consensus Best Knowledge  Best Practice

As a risk manager of long experience with high risk heavy construction and as co author of a recently released major research paper on the risk economics and public liability of tailings dam failures, my own unanswered questions and ongoing focus of inquiry are on the design and construction of the original dams and their modifications to accommodate dramatic production expansions at Samarco’s Alegria Complex. In particular the scant technical information I have been able to assemble and report below  points to the possibility of radical departure from long established and widely shared “best knowledge” and “best practice” on the height, rate of raise and slope of upstream tailings dams.

Brazilian prosecutors are also focusing on these issues. in particular whether the rate of raise at the Fundao contributed to failure..

No Official Public Records Or Technical Reports  On The Fundao Or Other Dams In The Complex

We have found no text confirming the history of the three dams referred to and no technical documentation on their original design and construction.

It appears though that the  Fundao dam , the failed dam, was put on line in 2010 and that the Santorem , initially also reported by BHP as having failed, is an older dam that  underwent a major rehabilitation in 2010-2011 to correct some design deficiencies and increase its capacity.  The crest of the Santorem was recently raised with an inflatable 30 m wide rubber dam.  The installer of that dam reports at their website that the dam was at 70% capacity at the time of that crest elevation via the inflatable dam.

The Santorem since 2012 has been under “executive design” by GeoHydroTech a Brazilian engineering company under a broader engineering contract with Samarco that included  analysis of failure probabilities and damages in the event of failure.

Samarco – Mariana / MG – Contract in progress since 2012

Tailings Disposal System Mirandinha composed of Mirandinha and Santarém Dams.

  • Services provided and carried out:
  • Conceptual, basic and executive design of both dams;
  • Preliminary design construction and planning stages of construction of dams;
  • Geologic structure mapping of the area of influence of the dams;
  • Hydrological studies in general;
  • Conceptual, basic and executive design of emergency spillway system;
  • Several studies of the potential damage downstream during a possible collapse of tailings dams (Dam Break);
  • Preparation of operating manuals and maintenance of the dam.”

The photo below is from Dave Petley’s landslide blog . He describes it as an intact dam on the left and the failed dam on the right.  However it appears it shows a failure of a single dam.

photo of two dams..

According to this most competent analysis so far an estimated 60 million cubic meters of tailings were released,  Dr Petley, an expert on landslides, theorizes that the most upstream  dam collapse caused the the collapse of the 2nd downstream dam and was the proximates cause of the landslide.  This site contains execellent images of the TSF dam configuration at the Alegria mine complex..

The costs of clean up are put at over $1billion by DeutscheBank Brazilian Officials now put estimated damages at $2.7 to $3.6 billion.

Runout was initially reported  by BHP at 400KM but has pushed to 600 km at the Atlantic .


Wall Street Journal reports that safety concerns were raised in an October 2015 inspection on contact between waste rock piles and the Fundao talings dam potentially threatening dam instability,  A Brazilian official has publicly cited this same concern and others  in a commissioned 2013 report .  The recommendations of this report were not adopted or made a condition of renewal of Samarco’s license. BHP says the waste rock pile is still in tact and that the issues red flagged in the 2013 independent assessment have been ruled out as the cause of this failure.

Dam Height A Factor in Stability and Conseqence In The Event of Failure

It is not specifically confirmed at the this time whether  the “Fundao”  or the “Santarem” is the 200’M buttressed up stream tailings facility rehabilitated in 2011.  The steep dam wall in the still standing dam on the left looks very much like photos  of the  buttressed 200m upstream dam at the Alegria complex  presented in a 2011 Tailings Conference presentation presentation .  However, that presentation refers to the buttressed dam as having a 7 year track record of zero pore pressure.  Google earth photos at Petley’s site of the dam at the source of the failure show virgin land c2003 .  .

Which ever dam is the 200m buttressed upstream dam, that 2011 tailings conference paper is   often cited as proof that upstream tailings dams are safe  even at heights up to 5 times greater than what has been  considered the  safe maximum for upstream construction. That buttressed TSF was strengthened to correct deficiencies in the original design and accommodate a planned dramatic increase in throughput when a new pit was anticipated to come on line in 2014 greatly increasing the volume of tailings wastes and overburden.

Brazilian prosecutors are focusing on dam height as evidence of Samarco’s negligence.  A piping failure is shaping up as the likely cause and is one of the factors that could cause a fatal failure especially in an upstream dam of this scale.

“{Brazilian Proseutor} Cureau said Samarco was negligent for increasing the height of the dam without proper studies and failing to come up with a contingency plan, including an alarm system. She said the penalties should be severe enough that companies will understand prevention as less onerous than paying for the consequences of an accident”

That 2010 dam reconfiguration  of what must be the Germano Dam is an industry “poster child” for  its aggressive opposition to any outright ban on upstream construction .

All Three Dams At Alegria Complex of Least Stable “Upstream Construction” Method

We are given to understand from what information is available that all three dams, in the complex  are  “upstream construction”

Upstream tailings dam construction is disproportionately the construction type of  all tailings dam failures  as compared to the safer “centerline” and “downstream” types in global data on  unplanned releases 1900-2015 and still a preferred least cost method for land deposition and retention of metal mine tailings especially at low grade mines. They are also universally recognized as the least stable type of construction especially in areas with a high seismic risk. However, best practice has generally been  that such dams should not exceed 30m to 50m so they have not, in history or in modern times been associated with catastrophic or very serious failures. A catastrophic failure generally requires an impoundment with a storage capacity of 5 million cubic meters  and a height greater than 50m.

In 2010 alone Samarco generated 16.1 million cubic meters of tailings waste at this mine complex.

In terms of tailings, in 2010, iron ore beneficiation in the two concentration plants generated 16.3 Mt of tailings, including sandy materials and slimes. This material was transported to appropriate waste disposal facilities (dams and waste piles), which are regularly monitored and inspected to ensure their stability. Increased waste generation has occurred due to the expansion of production at concentration plants and also due to lower iron ore grades. The sandy tailings generation rate is higher than the slimes generation rate; tailings are disposed of separately,providing better safety conditions to the dam structures and waste piles. To cope with the increase in waste generation, Samarco is developing a Tailings Disposal Plan (TDP), and studies on tailings recycling to ensure long term business sustainability”( pp4-5)


Rate of Raise In Upstream Tailings Dam A Crucial Factor In Maintaing Zero Pore Pressure

During its active life the main dam at Germano, presumably not the newer Fundao that failed)  was raised by 2.5 meters per month which according T.Martin  et al.violates rule 3  of the 10 cardinal rules  of safe upstream TSF construction.

“. The rate of raising of the dam must be sufficiently slow such that there is a sufficient degree of dissipation of excess pore pressures in the outer shell and in the slimes, and such that excess pore pressure buildup does not occur in foundation materials. Vick (1990) suggests that, for rates of impoundment rise of between 4.6 to 9.2 m/year, excess pore pressures are usually assumed to dissipate as rapidly as the load is applied, and therefore a normally consolidated state (i.e. zero excess pore pressure) can be assumed. Mittal and Morgenstern (1976) also suggested this range as being sufficient to generate excess pore pressures in slimes.”

Under the 10 point safety guidelines for upstream construction originally advanced in 1999 and 2000 and restated in this evaluation of  4 “off the shelf ” dam designs in South America  , the prototype of which had failed, authors state that a perfect score of 10 is required for safety of upstream TSF’s..

These rules exist based upon the fundamentals of soil behavior, the experience of numerous tailings dam failures and the experience of well-managed facilities that perform as intended. Of the 10 rules, a “score” of 9/10 will not necessarily have a better outcome than 2/10, as any omission creates immediate candidacy for an upstream tailings dam to join the list of facilities that have failed due to ignoring some or all of the rules”.

WISE sets the maximum rate of raise for an upstream dam at 15M/ Yr.  The  average rate of raise at Fundao was 30 and apparently never questioned. within the industry.

 Dam Rehabilitation & Height Rate of Raise Presented at 2011 VanCouver Tailings Conference.

The redesign  to allow these extraordinary heights for an upstream tailings dam was presented at a major tailings conference in 2011 as a state of the art best knowledge , best engineering approach to achieving safe heights for upstream constructions even at  more than 5 times what is still widely considered the maximum safe height for such dams.

In Brazil, the method has been inspired by experience gained from the drained disposal of sandy tailings, applied for moderate heights since 1980. More recently tailings embankment with heights up to 195 meters, with the possibility to exceed the 200 meters are under construction. Examples are the two structures of Samarco Mineração S.A. at Germano Mine (correct name Alegria Mine) herein: Germano Dam buttress”

The author is closely associated with Info Mine which in turn is closely associated Dr. Andrew MacG Roberson  who is acknowledged with thanks in this paper for guidance and advice. Info Mine , created by Dr. Robertson, seeks to present  and develop and the best available work in mining and is a long term advocate for responsible, well informed self-regulation by the mining industry.

The author of the tailings conference paper and his firm were, as far as we know, not involved in the original tailings dam design  Their work was to correct some original design deficiencies and create additional capacity in the dam.  The presentation however, unmistakably suggests that the dam ,post rehabilitation per their design, was stable and suitable for the anticipated additional volume of tailings it was to hold.  It unmistakably hailed a system that makes ultra high upstream dams safe and suitable ( under comparable conditions)

This paper and this dam   has been cited in other research as evidence that upstream construction should not be prohibited and can be used  safely.even at height well above customary established best knowledge and best practice.

This rehabilitated dam and this paper have also been cited as an example that the mining industry, even in challenging times of dramatically low prices, is responding to issues of tailings dam safety not by avoiding but exceeding improved regulations and stautes such as those in Brazil 

It is not known at this time whether these same departures from known best practice on the upstream dam construction were applied in the design construction and use of the newer Fundao dam which failed on November 5.

Samarco’s Rapid Expansion  Follows Metric Myth That Higher Production Volume At Low Cost Can Offset Low Grade Ore

In 2010 Samarco Mineracao ltd. S.A., the joint venture beween BHP Hilton  and Vale through which the mine is owned and operated ,described its new flow sheet to tackle it’s aggressive  plan   based on the core assumption of the mining metric: that lower grades and falling prices can maintain economic feasibility  through larger scale production at lower production costs without any additional increase in environmental security risks or potential public liability.

Although the Alegria mine was not on Bowker Assciates watch list of mines presenting the highest risk of economic and associated catastrophic environmental failure ,  it does meet the Bowker Chambers criteria for a very serious failure and keeps the global trend line to an increasing incidence of very seious failures globally on track with our prediction for 11 very serious failures gobally for the decade 2010 to December 31 2019. It also exactly follows the pattern we pointed to as the major cause of such failures: dramatically increased expansions within the existing facilities and footprint of much older mines. driven by falling grades.

The decline in grades at Alegria have been dramatic and are presently estimated at between 35% and 45% while still higher than other major itabarite producers.  Brazil has been known for its exceptionally high iron ore grades and Vale, Brazil’s largest producer has been known for  iron ore grades well above global averages.

Brazil Disproprortionately Represented In Modern Mine Catastrophe’s

There are several other  catatasophic dam failures in Brazil and its mine centered state of Minas Gerais  cited in the Bowker Chambers integrated global data base of mine failures since 1910 .

Brazil is disproportionately represented globally in the count of most serious failures tailings dam failures  for this decade ending November 5, 2015 with  2 of 9 catastrophic   and 2 of 8 major failures including Germano .

Documented major dam failures failures in Brazil post 2000 prior to the November 5th Alegria  mine  tailigs dam failure  asre:

Mineracao Rio Pomba Cataguases, Mirai, Minas Gerais, Brazil, ( owned by Mineração (Industrias Quimicas Cataguases) Bauxite  catastrophic failures  jJnuary 10,2007 and January 2003;  a serious failure in March 2006

Herculano Iron Mine, Itabirite, Minas Gerais, Brazil 9/12/14 ( no details on release volume..presently cattegorized in Bowker Chambers as “serious” but description seems to indicate “Very Serious”

Sebastião das Águas Claras, Nova Lima district, Minas Gerais, Brazil 6/22/01 , categorized as “serious”

Samarco BHP & Vale All Taking Ratings Hits

Samarco Mineração S.A. is a Brazilian company engaged in the mining, beneficiation, pelletizing and export of iron ore. The firm has four pellet plants in Anquieta municipality, in Brazil’s Espírito Santo state, as well as three concentrators in its Germano plant in Minas Gerais state. It also has a port terminal in Ponta Ubu, Espírito Santo, sales offices in Belo Horizonte and Victoria, and two international offices in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Its yearly production capacity reaches 30.5Mt. The company is owned equally by Vale and BHP Billiton. Samarco Mineração was founded in 1977 and is based in Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais state. Moody’s revised its ratings on $2.1 b in bonds on Tuesday to what Reuters columinsit Paul Kilby described as essentially a rating of “junk” .

BHP shares slid 58c, or 2.5 per cent, to $22.70 yesterday after news of the disaster, which Morgan Stanley estimated could result in a year of lost iron ore production In their first public comments on the disaster BHP has emphasized that all responsibility and liability lies with Samarco. ( This  is the legal mechanism insulating parent companies in most of histories catastrophic dam failures  from financial liability for damages caused by failure and transferring  the lions share of  risk and costs to the public) Financial Review Columnist Matthew Sevens has asserted that Vale and BHP nevertheless have a moral obligatin to assume ful lresponsibility for damages.

Vale was elected world’s worst company in January 2012 by the Public Eye People’s, an award that refers to human rights and environment, given since 2000 by the NGOs Greenpeace and Erklärung von Bern. Vale became the first Brazilian company to “win” the award, also known as the Oscar of shame. The choice was made by public vote, and Vale received 25 thousand votes. Wikipedia proflle of Vale)

Vale , which has seen a steady and dramatic decrease in its stock price over the past year also took a sharp hit on news of the Germano catastrophic failure settling at $4.14 on the NYSE.

Quite apart from the impacts attributable to this failure both BHP and Vale have been in a major performance slide since  mid October. While also impacting Rio Tinto and CLF, both have fared better han BHP and Vale.

Since mid-October, Vale and BHP Billiton have fallen by 23% and 21%, respectively, while Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Rio Tinto have plunged by 17% and 14%, respectively.

While Vale’s and BHP Billiton’s poor share price run can be partially attributed to the accident at Samarco, the demand-supply fundamentals are also to blame, haunting the iron ore equities in general

BHP Vale Perfromance Since Nid October Motley Fool

(Source Motley Fool November 2015)


History of Samarco

It is important to note that Samarco was not created by BHP and Vale as a joint venture.  It was formed with its own corporate vision, its own corporate culture and its own style under the leadership of an economist and has continued in that mode throughout its life.  From the outset Samarco’s vision has required strategic alliances with other more established companies to realize is vision.

Here is the corporate history of Vale. Present Vale  corporate philosophy emerged aggressively following privatization in 1996.  Prior to that the Brazilian Government was controlling partner.  It is through Vale’s  acquisition of conroling interest in Samitri in 2000 that Vale first acquired its interest in Samarco

“in May 2000: the company acquired a 63.06% interest in Grupo Belgo-Mineira’s total equity and a 79.27% stake in the voting capital of Samitri, which in turn owned 51% of Samarco Mineração. This transaction enabled CVRD to guarantee cost savings and technological integration, accentuating the focus of its mining activities and expanding its presence on the global pellet market. Samitri, headquartered in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, operated three iron ore mining complexes and was one of Brazil’s biggest producers, with annual production capacity of 17.5 million metric tons Samarco was one of the lowest-cost iron ore pellet producers in the world and it was highly competitive in the market

Alegria Catstrophe Consisent With Predictions by Bowker Chambers 2015 research on the economics of tailings dam failures. 

Other very serious failures globally since January 1, 2010 are:

Imperial Metals, Mt Polley, British Columbia, Canada

Minas Gerais,Itabarite,Brazil, Herculano

Philex Pad Cal No 3, Benquet Philippines

Ajka Alumina Plant, Kolontár, Hungary

Zijin Mining, Xinyi Yinyan Tin Mine, Guangdong Province, China

This brings the total to 6 of the 11 catatsrophic failures predicted by Bowker Chambers 2015 for the decade 2010-2019 ..

The total for catastrophic failures for the decade ending November 5 2015 (2005-2015) is   9  very serious failures .as compared to 7 for the decade 2000-2009.  We have not yet finalized our data on ore production post 2009 so do not yet have a final failure rate  bu based on preliminary estimates the rate of failure as of mid decade 2009-2019 is unchanged from the decade 2000-2009.

We will be tracking the further unfolding of details on this most recent catstophic dam failure through daily revisions to this post.

Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager

Bowker Associates

Science & Research In The Public Interest

15 Cove Meadow Rd.

Stonington, Maine 04681

207 367 5145

November 6 10 am Stonington Maine


One of the  three tailings dams in the complex  had recently installed an inflatable rubber dam.  This report at the designer/installers website indicates that at the time of installation the dam as at 70% capacity.

Dr David Petley, a global expert on landslides, has posted that he does not believe the installation or failure of the rubber dam is in the chain of events leading to failure of the two dams and the resulting landslide.

A PASTE 2013 Conference presentation by Vale ( partner in Samarco) on its exploration of TSF land deposition alternatives in Brazil:

Interesting beyond  Germano,its failure and issues attending proper design  and creation of upstream TSF’s in that p.  This was looking at how to handle the fine grained slimes that are a significant part of tailings volume in Brazilian iron mines and which are no amenable to dry stack.  Conclusion seems to be..not promising.


This report focuses on the brief perceived boom in iron  economics post 2000 and the present decade of correction and return to normal

Additional Press on Alegria Mine and Catastrophic Failure

11/5/2015  It is exciting and heartening that so much main stream global press has immediately 19sponded to and reported on this failure.  That has not been so of the world’s 1990 oher global catstrophic dam failures since 1990.  This vital work on the part of the 4th estate is essential to advancing the conversation among the many voices whose expertise is essential to fully mapping the problem of catastrophic failure and evolving a “best moment in time” plan of correction.  This dam failure, its history, and its consequence illustrate how limited the global reliance on the post Mt Polley Dam Committee Report is in addressing the global phenomenon of an increased rate and and greater scale of incidents on catastrophic failure.  The voices on that Committee are a critical part of the global conversation but each would readily say, I am sure, their commission was not mandated  to reform global mining.

Samarco reports that  two dams  collapsed “Samarco officials said on Friday the Santarém dam in the Germano complex had collapsed along with the rupturing of the Fundão dam on Thursday. The firm said it was too early to know the reasons for the disaster or the extent of carnage.

The dams had valid licenses from environmental authorities, who last inspected them in July, according to Samarco.

The dams are composed principally of sand and inert tailings, a mining waste product of metal filings.

Tailings dams sometimes hold chemicals, adding to fears of potential contamination of the nearby Gualaxo do Norte river, but Samarco said there were no chemical elements presenting health risks”

The conference presentation on the buttress work refers to the  dam as  “the main dam” and not by the name “Sanatrem Dam” so not clear whether the same structure. The scale of damage described and photographed however suggests  that the Sanatrem Dam is te same dam referred to as “Germano Main Dam”.  Dr. Chambers & I learned in our research for Bowker Chambers 2015 that it takes a very long  time to get a complete story on any failure and we continually find new information even on much older catastrophic failures.

At this stage after a major failure all information is just what has been observed and reported and it is normal for details to be confirmed slowly

This excellent  piece by Jim Regan and Susan Taylor looks at the failure in the context of global issues on dam failures, to policy, to the need for comprehensive solutions and to the reality of technology gaps

This post adds further details on recent inspections of both dams and additional quotes from the miner and government

There are four Samarco dams: Germano, Fundão, Santarém and Cava Germano. The company says all four have operating licenses granted by the regional environmental authority.

The last government inspection took place in July 2015 and indicated that all four of the dams were safe, the company said. Samarco also performs its own inspections, as required by the federal law on dam safety. The 12:00 am shift operations team is expected to report maintenance conditions and identify any abnormality immediately.

Vescovi said the mining company does not yet know why the dams collapsed. “We appreciate the help of the society and the expressions of support that have been directed to those affected by the disruption of the Fundão dam and Santarém,” he said.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff said the government will investigate the causes of the dam collapses and identify who is responsible for the disaster”

This post asserts that geosynthetics can play a role in TSF stability and performance. ( They had no information on such uses at the two failed dams in Germano)



This 2002 Martin/McRoberts Technical Paper presents an advocacy for the USA method of dam stability analysis citing examples of major failures where an ESA centered design was the cause.   This is more than a little beyond my  expertise but Martin & Mc Roberts are saying the main difference has do with fundamental assumptions about propensity to shear under static loads ( ie not precipitated by eartquakes or other external forces).  At its core the confusion is over whether  whether slimes are assumed to be frictional ege like sands) or cohesive ( eg  like clays.)

In Martins Mc Roberts own words:

The advocacy of USA for upstream tailings dams presented in this paper is therefore a well

known approach, best supported by Carrier’s (1991) back analysis of the well known Tyrone

failure case history. The Tyrone failure provided a classic example of the misconceptions as to

tailings strength. This seems to have its origin in the old soil mechanics precepts that sands were

frictional and clays cohesive. The misconception is that if one has non-plastic rock flour such

material is obviously frictional and an ESA analysis applies. The flawed corollary is that if slimes

are not cohesive, then a USA is not required – irrespective of whether or not the slimes are

contractant in shear, and potentially liquefiable. Given these misconceptions, it is not surprising

that tailings dam failures continue to occur.These lessons, shorn of theoretical aspects, were well

understood many years ago by the likes of Casagrande and MacIver (1970), Smith (1972), and

Lenhart (1950), and yet still have not entirely permeated the practice of tailings dam design and


ESA analysis typically overestimates the factor of safety by a factor of two relative to USA

analysis. This in turn would suggest that a great many upstream tailings dams have USA factors

of safety of less than one (since they are rarely designed using ESA to a factor of safety of 2 or

more), and should have failed (based on limit equilibrium analysis), but have not.

One of the numerous triggers listed that may be most relevant in the case of Samarco given what we know so far is the rate of raise and/or construction activity at the crest.

Overloading due to: rapid rate of impoundment raising

steepening at crest

construction activities at crest

Critically important in evaluating the Samarco falure is that traditional guidance on assumed zero pore pressure at rate sof rise of between 15ft t 30 ft per year applies when the height is 35m or less.

Use of both ESA and USA requires an estimation of the effective consolidation stresses at any

given time, which in turn require a good understanding of the pore pressure conditions (hydrostatic

versus downward drainage, normally consolidated versus excess pore pressures) within the dam.

Pore pressure conditions within upstream tailings dams are very often complex, misunderstood,

and improperly incorporated into stability analysis. Misinterpretation of piezometer data can easily

occur if adequate piezometer coverage does not exist. Vick (1990) suggests that, for rates of

impoundment rise of between 15 and 30 ft/year, excess pore pressures are usually assumed to

dissipate as rapidly as the load is applied, and therefore a normally consolidated state (i.e. zero

excess pore pressure) can be assumed. Mittal and Morgenstern (1976) also suggested this range

as being sufficient to generate excess pore pressures in slimes.

The authors caution that these experience-based criteria on rate of rise can be safely applied

only in cases with good underdrainage (permeable foundation relative to the tailings slimes),

relatively smaller embankments (35 m in height or less) with relatively short drainage paths, and

slimes free of significant clay content and plasticity. For example, the authors are aware of one

large upstream dam in which very high excess pore pressures exist in the clayey slimes despite a

rate of rise of only about 7 ft/year. Another example that emphasizes the need for caution is the

Tyrone tailings dam, which failed under undrained conditions at a construction rate of 12 to 15


 Cautionary tale against use of off the shelf designs  Another Martin McRoberts Paper on Upstream Dam Construction

“. When designed with sound engineering principles and constructed and monitored with observation of those principles,this economical advantage can be realized without compromising the stewardship requirements of modern tailings  management.”

“This paper briefly describes four upstream tailings dams. These four dams together offer a somewhat unique case history because they all share an essentially identical design. All four serve base metal mines (with very similar ore mineralogy and mill grind) operated by the same mining company, located at high altitude, relatively dry locations in South America. Due to differing site conditions and operating constraints, however, the single design (and the common operations philosophy) led to four different outcomes.”

The prototype failed leading to an evaluation of the three other identcal dams at the owners other mines in South America.

The design of the dams was prepared by an internationally known and respected

design-consulting firm in the 1990’s, a time when the requirements and engineering principles

for safe tailings management are well understood. The design essentials are illustrated in

section on Figure 1, and incorporates the following key elements:

Starter dam about 10 m to 20 m high, constructed of granular alluvium with filter

and drainage zones to ensure the starter dam would function as a toe drain.

Upstream raising of the dam at an overall 3H:1V slope, to a height 20 m to 25 m

above the starter dam crest elevation.

Requirement for maintenance of a minimum 30-m wide beach above water separating the dam crest from the decant water pond, at all times(BAW)”

 “Design” phreatic level assumed by the designer at any location within the dam

section to be at the ½ height of the dam, with hydrostatic conditions assumed


From their collective experiences with dozens of upstream-constructed tailings dams,

the authors propose 10 rules of upstream tailings dams as outlined below. The authors have

presented these previously (Martin and McRoberts, 1999, Davies and Martin, 2000) but

restate these fundamental and essential rules herein to provide context for the performance

and assessment of the four dams that are the subject of this paper”

(Under authors 10 essential principles a perfect 10 is required..omission of any one factor can lead to failure)”

These rules exist based upon the fundamentals of soil behavior, the experience

of numerous tailings dam failures and the experience of well-managed facilities that perform

as intended. Of the 10 rules, a “score” of 9/10 will not necessarily have a better outcome than

2/10, as any omission creates immediate candidacy for an upstream tailings dam to join the

list of facilities that have failed due to ignoring some or all of the rules”.

(Rule # 3 on rate of rise is what seems most at issue  not just in upstream dam failures but others as well:  the rate of rise:)

“3. The rate of raising of the dam must be sufficiently slow such that there is a sufficient

degree of dissipation of excess pore pressures in the outer shell and in the slimes, and such

that excess pore pressure buildup does not occur in foundation materials. Vick (1990)

suggests that, for rates of impoundment rise of between 4.6 to 9.2 m/year, excess pore

pressures are usually assumed to dissipate as rapidly as the load is applied, and therefore a

normally consolidated state (i.e. zero excess pore pressure) can be assumed. Mittal and

Morgenstern (1976) also suggested this range as being sufficient to generate excess pore

pressures in slimes. The allowable rate of rise of 1 m/month specified for the design shown on

Figure 1 therefore appears in violation of this rule.”

The rate of rise at Germano main dam was 2.5 meters per month according to the 2011 Tailings Conference presentation on its reconfiguration.

10. If an upstream constructed dam is raised at a slope steeper than 4H:1V, the

likelihood of a static undrained failure due to minimal trigger is increased. Accordingly,

upstream dams should be raised at slopes of 4H:1V or flatter

Case study # 2 sounds very much like the main dam at Germano..  a butress was added to stabilize emerging  pore pressures

Because the tailings in the impoundment have a relatively high pyrite

content and are potentially acid generating, it had been recognized two years prior to the

remediation that clogging of the geotextile enclosing the finger drains below the starter dam

could develop due to formation of chemical precipitates generated by oxidation reactions.

The geochemical processes underlying this mechanism are described by Plewes and

McDonald (1996). Upon cutting of the geotextile at the finger drain outlets at the downstream

toe of the starter dam, clogging of not only the geotextile but, to some extent, the drain rock,

was indeed noted.”

Swedish License Thesis looking at Mathematically modeling stability enhancements  to upttream tailings dams anticipating greaer rate of raising that is normally considered safe



While not a complete strategy for preventing catastrophic dam failures, the West Australia Mine Regulations are state of the art globally.  Here are therir guidelines for tailings dams.


( Included this because of reference in one article post collapse that the failure occurred or was just after installation “of a a rubber cap at the dam”   As a Risk manger, from a Risk Manger’s poin tof view the use of untried, unproven technology in high risk situations is only o.k. where the risk is already present and there is no known proven solution.  In mining there is a continual push to allow unproven systems even in ultra high risk situations where a failure would create that risk..  This application proposes use of geosynthetic membranes in lieu of  engineered soil and rock layers that would normatively be used.

Conventional Wisdom & Cautions on Upstream Tailings Dams

This 1979Klohn basic  guidance on upstream tailings dams is not much changed in the late work by Morgenstern, Vick, Davis & McRoberts

Chinese Study of Ultra of Stability of Ultra High Tailings Dams Under Different Conditions

This is a case study of  centerline dam, China’s largest  with an 800 million cubic meter capacity and a design height of 20 meters.  It finds that while the design under normal working conditions , it cannot attain the specified coefficient of sfatey under conditions of saturation.

Centerline construction is safer than upstream configuration for any holding of tailings.Downstream construction is recommended for very large dams but space constraints, costs, and local availability  of materials  centerline construction is  most often used for modern large dams.

At Mt Polley, deviation from the Knight Piesold design due to non availability of suitable materials resulted in what was essentially an upstream design also violating upstream construction standards..Mt Poley was, though within accepted height guidelines for an upstream dam at approximately 60 meters.  The dam committee investigating cause of failure found that a buttress recommended by the Ministry of Mines would have prevented the failure if Imperial had acted in time.

Posted in alegria mine, BHP, Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest, Brazil 's High Grade Iron Ores, Causes Of Catastrophic Tailings Dam Failures, Economics of Iro Ore Mining, Germano Tailings Dam Failure, Height Limits of Earthen Dams, Rate of Raise for Upstream Tailings Dams, Risk & Public Liability of Tailings Dams, Risk Economics and Public Liability of Tailings Dam Failures, Samarco Mineracao S.A., Tailings Dam Risk Management, Upstream Tailings Dam Safety, Vale SA. | 2 Comments

Tailings Facility Failures 1915-2014: An Integrated/Reconciled Compilation of ICOLD Bulletin 121 and WISE Supplemented by Carefully Vetted Compilations

A major work product of Bowker Chamber 2015 ( Risk-Public Liability-Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failures” Bowker & Chambers, July 2015,) this downloadable excel of the data base we created for all authoritatively reported Tailings Facility Failures 1910-2009 is the most complete compilation known .

Dr. David M. Chambers ( Center for Science in Community Particpation) & Lindsay Newland Bowker ( Director, Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest)   are pleased to be able to share this machine readable compiilation with other researchers and to invite collaborative input to it to fill  gaps that still remain and add failures never reported.  Recently we discovered a 2007 catastrophic failure in Minas Gerais  that had not been previously reported at WISE.  It finally turned up at WISE 8 years later.

We found authoritative compilations of events in the Phillipines, Chile, and China that were not reported in WISE and were not included in ICOLD Bulletin 121 ( a global  compilation by survey through 2000).

A key attribute of our compilation is the severity rankings which are shown numerically and by color code.  The criteria governing these codes were total release, run out, and deaths.  Another key feature of our revised data base is identification of the event by correct  mine name . parent company, and subsidiary/operator.  That this protocol is not part of the WISE and original Bulletin 212 ICOLD compilations was an initial obstacle  not only to eliminating duplicates and identifying repeated occurrences at the same mine.  Not having correct mine name and parent company also hindered other research on the mine and the economic/financial circumstances leading up to failure.

We are collaboratively tracking, vetting and compiling authoritative data on post 2009 failures and  still filling in missing data on pre 2010 events.

We  hope to post annual updates to our compilation.which will also review trends and next decade rpedictions..  Based on data through December 31, 2014 we are still predicting 11 catatastrophic tailngs facility failures for the decade 2010-2019 at a cost of $6 billion globally.

Please forward all updates, additional data, additional information to Dr. Chambers and copy us at

David M. Chambers <>

Posted in Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest, Center For Science In Public Participation, David M. Chambers, ICOLD BULLETIN 121, Lindsay Newland Bowker, Tailings Facility Failures 1910-2015, Tailings Failures Globally By Seveeirty of Failure, WISE URANIUM DAM FAILURES | Leave a comment

Yellow Giant Mine Failure : Canada’s Flailing Against Declining Grades and Rising Production Costs

At its heart the Yellow Giant Mine failure which Van Couver Sun journalist Gordon Hoekstra, thankfully and with good research, is keeping front and center is about an improperly vetted and proven use of  pre-concentration technology.  The asset had not been proven as a resource at the time of approval by BC MOM and the selection of  pre concentration process technology was based on limited sampling .  The selected DMS concentration, is a relatively costly system which produces actual wet tailings slurry .  ( This link is to Vancouver Based Sepro Systems.  Their system has not been named as the system in use at Yellow Giant)
Sudbury 2011, an annual mining conference on innvoations in mining, featured pre concentration as  a possible approach to Canada’s mining crisis of tumbling grades and rising production costs calling on Canadian Miners to be more bold and forward thinking in the to create a “culture of innovation”  Sudbury 2011 correctly pointed to pre-construction as worthy of more attention in Canada for mine expansions , de novo mines,  underground mines unable to expand  within existing and those not able to provide concentrate at global market standards.. It offers the possibility of all that was focused on at Sudbury 2011 but the publicity it has gotten in Canada through the Yellow Giant Mine failure and stop work order does not serve the technology and its possibilities for Canadian mine problems well.
“Best Practice’ almost by definition requires  both “best knowledge” and “proven efficacy”.  Best Practice is not at all inherently incompatible with the call to innovation made at Sudbury 2011 on behalf of Pre-Construction.
But that does not appear to be  the story at Yellow Giant Mine.  What happened there is more like the “try it any way it might work” mentality of  the U.S. A’s  well funded and very influential mining industry/extraction industry lobby,   ITRC.  ITRC actually “trains”  state regulatory  personnel in the use of unproven technologies and requires a cult like pledge of State Agency members  to allow and promote them in mine expansions and de novo mining .
Proven Efficacy & Customary Place of Pre-Concentration
Pre-Concentration is a method of separating up to 50% of the non ore bearing wastes underground before hoisting to the surface for finish processing.  The separated non ore bearing underground waste in most ystems directy bacfills as produced, That reduces the throughput volume ( what goes to the mill for finish processing to concentrate ) by 50% as well  and  elevates both the concentration of ore in the concentrate and also the overall grade of the concentrate viz global standards while minimizing the above ground footprint including the footprint of an existing TSF.
It’s proven efficacy, according to the pre-concentration sector is both to improve margins ( ie make a mine economically feasible that might not otherwise be performing)’s an extra step in the process of creating a final marketable concentrate meeting global standards.   The system at Banks Island committed to deliver concentrate at AU56g/t gold, well above what is normally achievable without pre concentration.
In its more customary uses pre concentration  at a site also producing concentrate would then still have a tailings residue at the end of the process and would still need a tailings management plan for that waste, essentially the other 50%.
Backfill at Yellow Giant Apparent Source of Pollution
Backfill deposition and evaluatin of materials is as much an issue in pre concentration systems as in any other backfill.  Yellow Giant has 5% total sulphur and has very high arsenic and is therefore potentially acid generating.

Thus, backfilling of underground workings is

often regarded as best practice for the rehabilitation of mining voids (e.g.,

MEND, 1995). Such backfilled waste is often regarded to be as chemically

and physically secure as the original mined ore. In particular, the disposal

of tailings below the groundwater table reduces the amount of reactive

material that would be available for oxidation. Nevertheless, if the tailings

are stored above the groundwater table without a dry or wet cover,

oxidation may generate metal-rich acid leachate (Morin and Hutt, 1997).

The leachate in most cases will be transported in the saturated zone of

surficial aquifers where the prevailing groundwater flow will produce metal

and metalloid rich plumes down gradient from the mine workings (e.g.,

Warren et al., 1997; Younger, 2000). This study is based on seasonal

groundwater measurements and sampling and the results of kinetic leaching

experiments in combination with hydrological modelling. ”

System designs directly dispose of wastes as generated out of the  sorting system  as produced.

The B.C. MOM stop work order requires submission and approval of a waste management plan. The February 2013 technical report by Baldwin, now posted up at Banks Island’s website does not address or describe the specifics of the back fill/ separated waste materials.

Here is an excellent study exploring the efficacy of pre-concentration in mafic ores at several mines in Sudbury struggling wiith declining grades and rising costs..  This is the “culture of innovation” Sudbury 2011 pointed to and the level of work  that should attend any mine expansion or attempted save.
Yellow Giant Mine Deviation From Proven Applications of Pre-Concentration
At Yellow Giant Mine there are no details in the NI 43 101  on Yellow Giant Mines’ “scheme” nor have we found any other  sources with details on the  management plan for the 50% that stays underground and is usually directly applied as backfill.  It is materials of a uniform pre specified size and contains all the same minerology except lower levels of the targeted ore .  So its geochemical and metal profile is unaltered . Without pre concentration all would have ended up in tailings above ground after mill throughput.
The permit at Yellow Giant Mine did allow the underground deposition of the pre separated waste from pre concentrated ore but we have no details on any pre testing that was done on the waste stream or underground deposition plan.  The NI 43-101, which offers the best overall summary of history, study, mine pan etc.  also offer no details on that part of the plan dealing with the pre-concentration waste and its management. It does though characterize the entire scheme as “possible” based on lab tests viz the production of pre-concentrate .  It also repeatedly emphasized that the asset itself was not a proven resource based on all drill core and analysis which existed as of the time of the  permit application and fund raising via TSX.
The Fiscal Acrobatics of the Yellow Giant Mine Plan
The Gold’ Report’s Louis James, a specialists in promising pecative gold ventures is an investor and promoter of the Yellow Giant project calling it the “little mine that could”
The original Yellow Giant Mine version of Pre-concentration was to ship the pre -concentrate to Nevada. ( Imperial Metals acquired the Yellow Giant Mine asset in 2009 along with Ruddock Creek and also owns an asset in Nevada.  The destination smelter was not named.  Banks Island Gold leases from Imperial who have not been confirmed to have any direct role in operations or control).  It appears that in stead Banks Island entered an offload agreement with a small  NY  commodities broker, Metallica Resources Ltd.  The agreement required delivery monthly to them of a certain volume of concentrate grading not less than  AU56g/t.  Banks Island announced its proof of success in producing “marketable concentrate” claiming a  “realized price of $1,493” and a grade of AU67g/t.
 Feasibility assumes gross revenue ( before costs) to be 80% of market price.  A market price of $1360 was specified as the minimum for financial feasibility.At the time of the report the price of gold was briefly at $1,700 per oz.
According to the February 2013 NI 43-101 the , the Bob Zone, the main focus of the extraction plan , had total sulphur level of 5.0% & and high arsenic levels in new samples analyzed in 2011 and 2012..  It required a mill capable of handling the high arsenic.   Global arsenic standards are 0.5%  for concentrates. Excess of this level have price penalties  or will not be accepted at all .
At the time B.C. Ministry of Mines approved this permit the global price of gold was around $1,095/oz. .At the time the Imperial Metals subsidiary announced its success in producing a marketable concentrate the price of gold was already below the level required for financial feasibility at $1,200.
B.C. Ministry of Mines and Environment Canada Co-Responsible for Yellow Giant Mine public will bear whatever Costs there are for damages
The level of financial risk the B.C. Ministry of Mines and Environment Canada seems to be willing to tolerate in its struggle to overcome 70 years of below world average head grades and rising production costs will very clearly exponentially elevate environmental security risks if this “culture of innovation” doesn’t  also require careful vetting of both financial and environmental viability.
Further Reform Needed At TSX
It is important to note that the TSX bears some scrutiny as well.  Should a non proven resource even be allowed to raise capital in public markets for other than exploration and feasibility? This group ( the Board of Yellow Giant Mine) raised $25 million for an actual mine operation for a resource that wasn’t even proven.   Recently the stock was trading at 0.02 so presumably those investors are out that $25 million.  It is clear from the financials of this group that any correction or clean up will be entirely at the publics expense.  ( There are no details available on closure security, if any)
See notes below on corrections and retractions TSX require to the Yellow Giant NI 43 101/
They still allowed TSX listing for operations and production for an unproven resource. Id this allowed on the American or NY exchanges?
August 5, 2015 Stonington Maine
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager
Bowker Associates
Science & Research In The Public Interest
February 2013 Banks Island announces production of marketable concentrate.”Gold concentrates, representing 55.4 tonnes, averaged 66.7gpt Au, 286gpt Ag, and 6.7% Cu. The minimum required quality for gold concentrate under the off take agreement is 50gpt Au.” off take agreement is  with Metallica Commodities Corp.  The price was $1,200.  $1300 plus was needed for financial feasibility.
July 31 2015 Gitxaala Leaders say they never approved the mine ( which is onheir unceded lands) and that it as affected harvest areas important to the Gitxaala people.  Banks Island refuses to obey shut down order.
Harsh Commentray and supporting data on Banks Island Financials  criticism of promotion of mine as a good investment
Retractions & Correctpns to Ni 43101 for Yellow Gant that were non compliant
Banks Island Gold Statement on Shut Down Order & Circumstances Prompting It
“It is notable that the Yellow Giant project has no surface storage of tailings. Banks Island Gold Ltd. is one of the only operators in the world that is successfully operating a Dense Media Separation (“DMS”) plant to pre-concentrate a primary gold ore. Pre-concentration rejects up to 50% of the mined mass in a coarse gravel sized product resulting in sufficient void space in underground workings to dispose of all tailings underground. “
North American Broker offering quick settlement on gold and silver concentrates .  Crest One has not been identified as in anyway associated with the Yellow Giant/Banks Island  project.  provided as general background on  trade and markets in gold and silver concentrates. BCGold Corp. (BCG.VNews)(BCGOF.PKNews) (or the “Company”) is pleased to announce that it has entered into a concentrate purchase agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”) with Auramet Trading, LLC (“Auramet”), a New Jersey-based precious metals merchant, to facilitate the sale of approximately 0.8 dry metric tonnes (dmt) of gold-rich gravity concentrate produced during bulk sampling at the Engineer Mine in 2011. Auramet has arranged a secondary agreement between BCGold Corp. and Sipi Metals Corp. (“SiPi”), a precious metal refinery situated in Chicago, Illinois, with respect to refining terms and treatment charges for the recovery of gold and silver from the concentrate.”
 In April 2015 Yellow Giant reached definitive purchase agreement for silver with Silver Stream  SECZ
Posted in Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest, Canadian Mining, Gordon Hoekstra, High Total Sulphur, Imerial Metals, Lindsay Newland Bowker, Mine Risk Management, Pre Concentration, Public Liability & Financial Risk, Sudbury 2011, Tailings Risk Management, Yellow Giant Mine, Yellow Giant Mine Failure | Leave a comment

20 Million Cubic Meter Tailings Facility At Gold Ridge Mine, Solomon Islands Teeters On Brink Of Collapse: Mining Journals Silent

Contact: 207 367 5145 Attracting no attention in any mining journals or U.S./ Canadian Press, the Gold Ridge Mine near Guadalcanal was declared a disaster  on July 7th, it’s 50m high  20 million cubic meter TSF, in danger of imminent failure . To avert that failure local government has approved a daily release of 12,000 cubic meters into the Motopano River, a drinking source for 8,000 downstream, even though a UNESCO report on behalf of local government had advised that an emergency release of untreated waters should not exceed 3,375 cubic meters per day. A coalition of 17 tribes who owned and settled the land before being displaced for mining and other development, acquired Gold Ridge Mine for $A100 from last owner St Barbara Ltd in May 2014.  St Barbara, was locked out by local government who charged that they had abandoned the site in unsafe condition and without notice following a typhoon and flash flooding that added water levels to the TSF that were not  provided for in design. St Barbara was  the last mining company owner in a long chain of mining musical chairs at this mine that was a victim of its own flawed planning and engineering. How this modern mine , which started operation in 1998 and stopped mid 2001, came to this crisis state and the fact that no mining journals are reporting it, is significant as we lead up to the first anniversary of the failure of Mt. Polley in British Columbia.


At Mt Polley also excessive water levels on top of tailings that ultimately triggered failure were under negotiation .  Imperial, had applied for a permit to discharge untreated waters in 2012 and had agreed, after in depth study lead by Brian Olding Associates  on behalf of First Nations, that discharge needed to be held in ponds and settled before release.St. Barbara had also requested permission for a controlled  untreated release of  the 540,000  cubic meters.  Local government had insisted on repair of the damaged water treatment plant and only controlled release of treated discharge a recommendation upheld by UNESCO..Local Government ,who were frustrated with, and mistrustful of, St Barbara had sought help and guidance from UNESCO…

St Barbara assumed, and was presumably bound by  the terms and conditions of  financing via IFC and World Bank which required that any emergency discharges be to drinking water standards.   The petition St Barbara made for untreated release was inconsistent with that IFC/World Bank condition. The 540,000  cubic meter accumulation now to be released at three times the safe dilution rate specified by UNESCO does not meet these standards

.No details are available on IFC/World Banks role in the sale to local tribes for $a100 and whether IFC had forgiven St. Barbara’s debt. Seems likely though that the transfer of liabilities also potentially benefited IFC.  It remains to be seen whther Australian Courts will allow this transfer  of liabilities to  an unfunded and inexperienced wner.

At Mt Polley one year later  there is still not even an assessment of damages, an approved remediation plan let alone a clean up plan underway. Gold Ridge Mt Polley and  almost all of the 29 prior catastrophic dam failures in recorded history are  the result of miners avoiding the public loss  and other consequences of their own faulty management decisions and practices  and of regulatory systems which allow this to happen. What Imperial has expended as “clean up” is just stabilization and repair of the TSF itself in preparation for safe and questionably pre funded permanent closure. and expenditure for what amounts to a mine expansion confiscating Hazeltine Creek for use as settling ponds.

Meanwhile, according to Imperial,  only about $47 million supposedly ear marked is available to actually do any remediation if and when a remediation plan is formed and approved, or damages are calculated for the totally avoidable failure that occurred last August 4t..

Both Mt Polley and Gold Ridge are ultimately stories of miners not accepting or being able to fund the public liability loss resulting from their own business decisions and from ineffective regulations which failing to notice or  monitor the emerging financial risk and its continually elevating effect on environmental risk.

The Australian export credit agency, EFIC and poor planning and vetting on the art of the original miner Ross Mining N.L., set in motion the chain of events that has led to this crisis1/ and the decision to allow an unsafe  rate of release of 540,000 cubic meters of untreated waters threatening collapse,


In Australia miners and mining journals,are locked in deep denial in their examination and discussion of the Gold Ride crisis. They insist the fault is with local corruption and political unrest and with the 2013 typhoon. According to one reputable mining economist close to St. Barbara, the company itself still believes it could have made a go of it but for political unrest . According to this economist, who has asked not to be named or cited,  the company did acknowledge they  relied on Australian Trade Officials  in lieu of vetting they should have conducted independently.. No one in Australia though is talking about what went wrong and when, or discussing the actual chain of events leading to this crisis and this unsafe level of release of untreated waters. As at Mt Polley and as partially explicated in the Dam Committee report, the crisis at Mt Polley was also about the miners economic need to get approval for release of   untreated Mine waters at variance with permit terms and conditions. First Nations, with technical and scientific assistance from Brian Olding Associates had determined in 2012 that such a release was not environmentally sound or consistent with permit requirements and that settling ponds were needed to clear the water of sediment prior to release. Although Imperial had agreed , no settlement ponds were designed or underway as water continued to accumulate to near overtopping and finally lead to collapse. Under the guise of “cleanup”  and bank stabilization,  Imperial has now reconfigured Hazeltine Creek to provide the settlement ponds.

The dam committee report specifically noted that all of the deviating dam elevations post 2012 were about water storage problems and those problems were key to collapse.

That same set of conditions exists at Gold Ride one year later on the other side of the world.. This competent persons report on Gold Ridge prepared for Allied, St Barbara’s most recent predecessor in 2011 tells a very different story of how this crisis emerged and puts a very different light on what the Australian mining sector refers to as “corruption and political unrest” creating an impossible business environment for mining.

Story of Gold Ridge Primarily a Story of Faulty Vetting and Planning ,Poorly Informed Management Decisions 

Without oversimplifying or stepping too far beyond the proper knowledge boundaries of a risk manager , the story is that the resource itself was not properly evaluated and the plant designed was incompatible with the fundamental geochemistry and characteristics of actual mill input.

“The Gold Ridge processing plant treated 4.4 million tonnes of ore from the Valehaichichi pit from August

1998 until the plant was shut down due to escalating civil unrest in June 2000. The plant produced

approximately 210,000 ounces of gold at a mean gold recovery of around 78%. Gold recovery generally

trended downwards during the period of operations ranging from a high of 86% in May 1999 to a low of 68% in April 2000


In 2005 ASG initiated a metallurgical testwork programme to resolve the reasons for the poor

metallurgical performance within segments of the deposits.

EFIC , the Australian Export Credit Agency which had provided both political risk insurance and financing for the original project, apparently bailed out after Ross Mining abandoned the mine refusing to support miner XYZ and then Allied in its takeover and redevelopment plans.  World Bank/IFC took over after acquisition by larger and stronger Allied.

Allied’s restructuring/reconfiguration focused on a strategy to solve the problems Ross Mining had encountered by increasing the process capacity of the plant so that very high costs could be spread over a larger volume of through put..  This plan through was not supported by any substantive reassessment of the resource or its characteristics.  Although the plan called for far more output to the TSF than had been planned and also an ultimate change in height of the facility, no substantive changes were made as Allied pressed ahead into production quickly encountering the exact same problems Ross had encountered.  The project was not made economically viable through Allied’s efforts  and the Competent Person Assessment was an effort to seek a  correction.

Apparently on the basis of this reprt, Allied  sold to St Baraba who inerited all the problems documented without any investment or reconfiguration to solve those problems. which also plagued St Barbara during its very brief tenure before the typhoon. .


. 1/Risky Business Shining A Spotight on Australias Export Credit Agency  A report by Jublilee Australia Digging Into the Roots of Poverty Luke Fletcher With Scott Kickie & Adele Webb December 2009

News Updates Additional Links

August 7, 2015  Concern about adequate technical capacity to execute the dewatering safely and in accordance with World Health Organization Standards.

St Barbara makes public defense of its actions

Andrew Morton Story..Land Owners blame St Barbara seek delisting on AUX

St Barbaras stock rebounds from near bottom out on avoiding tailings repairs at Gold Ridge

St Barbara Ltd (ASX: SBM) share price gained 360% to $0.57. The gold miner was at the bottom of a pit a year ago, with concerns over its Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon islands. The mine was finally sold to the Solomon Islands government for a nominal sum, relieving St Barbara of expensive repair work to the tailings storage facility. Operations at the mine were suspended in April 2014 after torrential rainfall. Add in record annual production from the company’s Gwalia and Simberi mines at an all-in sustaining cost of $1,007 per ounce in financial year 2015, and St Barbara has truly turned the tables on lady luck


Tailings Dam Waters Will Be Treated Before Release: Equipment In Customs and Awaiting Installation: Release Rate Still Too Fast Per UNESCO

According to details in this article the release will still take place in 90 days instead of over 6 months as recommended by UNESCO as necessary for the  safest dilution for the receiving waters..  Not clear whether the first waters will by pass treatment ( as suggested by this article).


Owners Commit to Further Repairs At Gold Ridge In Hope of Attracting Buyers

Landowners ,who still have not apparently sought expert independent analysis , are undertaking infrastructure repairs and repairs to the mines facilities.  They claim interest from a Chinese investor, likely the notorious Zinjin and from a Canaduan and an Australian investor. Negotiations with other investors fell apart in part over landowners expectation of initial compensation covering what had been previously promised and was owed to them by past miners.

Zinjin has been divested by Norway for corruption and human rights abuses in mining.  They are associated with a disproportionate number of catastrophic dam failures.  ( See .Tailings Dam Failures 1915-2014 at It is interesting to note that North Solomon mine, Panguna at Bougainville had a similar history and similar difficulty fnding a flow sheet that could extract and process profitably.

Gold prices are well below what had been previously set as a the minimum for economic viability at Gold Ridge.

The Solomon Islands have not developed or taken steps to develop a strong well informed statutory and regulatory system for mining.

Posted in Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest, EFIC, Gold Ridge Mine, IFC, Jubilee Australia, Lindsay Newland Bowker, Mining Risk Management, solomon islands mining history, St Barbara Ltd., Tailings Dam Failures, tailings dewatering, Tailings Risk Management, World Bank | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interdisciplinary Research Reveals Global Trend of Tailings Dam Failures That Will Result In $6 billion in Unfunded Unfundable Public Liability 2010-2019

David Chambers, President Center for Science In Public Participation , Bozeman Montana  (406-585-9854)
Lindsay Newland Bowker, Director Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest  Stonington, Maine

207 367 5145

Catastrophic mine waste spills increasing in frequency, severity and cost world-wide

On 1st anniversary of North America’s worst mine waste disaster, in-depth analysis shows Mount Polley tailings dam failure is part of a global trend attributable to industry and regulatory failure to implement best practices

July 29th — On the 1st anniversary of North America’s worst mining waste spill at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia, a new interdisciplinary analysis reveals  that such catastrophic spills are increasing in frequency, severity and cost. The Risk, Public Liability, and Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failures shows that modern metal mining techniques have driven the creation of increasingly more risky mine waste facilities, enabled by  regulators that have failed to require best practices to minimize financial and environmental risk.  These failures are almost all the result of the failure of regulatory agencies to require, and the industry’s failure to follow, known best practices.

Co-authored by Lindsay Newland Bowker, Director, Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest, and David Chambers, Ph.D., a mining technical specialist, the report’s primary findings include:

  • The rate of serious tailings dam failures is increasing. Half (33 of 67) of serious tailings dam failures in the last 70 years  occurred in the 20 years between 1990 and 2009
    • The increasing rate of tailings dam failures is propelled by, not in spite of, modern mining practices. The increasing rate of tailings dam failures is directly related to the the increasing number of TSFs larger than 5 million cubic meter capacity necessitated to allow the economic extraction of lower grades of ore.
    • 11 catastrophic failures are predicted globally from 2010 to 2019. . Predicted total cost of these 11 failures is $6 billion , virtually all unfunded and unfundable..
  • The average cost of the these  catastrophic dam failures is $543 million as determined by actual court records and other official documents on government efforts to recoup clean up and recovery costs from miners who walked away without paying for the damages they caused. .
  • Mining companies cannot afford, and cannot secure insurance to cover, the costs of catastrophic failures that are not “acts of God”: Losses, both economic and ecological, are in large part either permanent and non-recoverable, or recovery — to the extent physically possible —  funded by public monies.

“More mining waste disasters like Mount Polley are inevitable,” said David Chambers, report co-author and director of the Center of Science in Public Participation. He continued, “If mining practices continue as usual, we are going to see more severe spills, more frequently, that will cost the public hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to clean up.”

“Our research shows that  most of the 29 known catastrophic failures of tailings dams in recorded history  are the result of poorly informed  consciously made business and management decisions by miners who then refuse, or are financially unable , to accept the public loss and consequence of those decisions.” said report co-author Lindsay Newland Bowker. “  Of course, regulatory systems which allow this to happen also contribute by not recognizing deviation from accepted practice and the unfolding of financial risk as it evolves  and escalates environmental risk to a level of public disaster.”

“As a result of the Mount Polley investigation, mining companies and regulators know they have to change mine waste disposal practices to minimize the risk of future disasters,” said Chambers. He continued, “Unfortunately, as evidenced by the recent approvals for mines in the Alaska/British Columbia transboundary area, they are failing to do so.”

Mining tailings are the waste left over after metal ore has been processed. They are disposed of by dumping behind huge earthen tailings dams. On August 4, 2015, the Mount Polley Mine failed, releasing an estimated 25 million cubic meters of waste into the Fraser River watershed.

Link to full report:

Posted in Andre Mc G. Robertson, Catatrophic Tailings Dam Failures, CU Average Grade 1910 2010, CU Average Ore Production 1910 2010, CUCosts of Production 1910 2010, David M. Chambers, Lindsay Newland Bowker, Mining Economics, Tailings Risk Management, World Bank | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self Bonding For $2.7 billion in Closure Costs Could Translate to Public Liability Federal Lawmakers Fear|310|83|80|61

This article reports a re examination of the public liability implications of U.S. federal policy allowing “self bonded” financial closure for coal miners. The issues raised are obviously also relevant for metallic mining  under regulatory requirements for financial assurance for closure  which also  allow “self bonding”

Accoridng to this Business Insurance article:

“The country’s four largest coal companies — Peabody Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy — together have about $2.7 billion in clean-up costs covered by self bonding, according to securities filings and regulators.”

(This is not for clean up after a failure this is for closure at conclusion on mining operations at a given site underpermit should the miner abandon or otherwise become unable to perform the closure and associated “clean up” )

Closure bond requirements for the Pebble mine would have been close to $1Billion.

Responding to the federal re examination of its “self bonding” policy, Fitch Ratings Inc. estimates that if tighter and better financial assurance for closure were required, as presently being considered by federal law makers, it could actually bankrupt or seriously impair miners and also have a de stabilizing influence on the industry possibly  precipitating a wave of failures.

“Last week, Fitch Ratings Inc. warned that tougher rules for self-bonding could push leading coal companies closer to bankruptcy. ‘Tighter self-bonding requirements for distressed coal entities would reduce liquidity and could hasten restructuring,” Fitch Ratings wrote.'”

The details of the “tighter requirements” aren’t included in the Business Insurance article  but presumably  deal with how the “self bonding” is treated “on the books” and/ or how the funding works ( trust account, segregated audited account,  other methods which encumber the “self bonded” in the same way that a formal corporate self insured retention would,  or which create a legally binding site specific encumbrance of the bonded amounts surviving bankruptcy..

In other words Fitch is saying that the  “self bonded” companies are not actually strong enough  financially to back the $2.7 billion already under approved “self fundied”bonds.

Federal lawmakers are rightly concerned that this already incurred $2.7 billion in “self bonded ” financial assurance for closure costs  may be in large part an existing unfunded unfundable public liability.

The issue when liabilities reach a level of being un fundable for something as basic and essential as having financial assurance for a stable and safe mine closure,  is not a funding problem it is a problem with the way mines are vetted in the fist place, who applications are accepted from and how financial feasibility of mine and financial viability of operator are monitored life of mine by independent experts in mine economics and mine finance.

The Federal government is looking down the same black hole on how much of this $2.7 billion is actually there as Bowker Chambers 2015 point to (1). How will this $2.7 billion be re-financed if the industry itself is not capable of funding/financing its liabilities with greater accountability to availability of the funds should they be required for closure? 

Were these companes actually financial capable of guaranteeing the availability of these funds in the event of a bankruptcy  or abandonment prior to closure at the time the applications were under review?  Every mine statute we have looked at requires a determination of the “financial and technical capacity of the applicant” but none we have seen actually have a rigorous or even reasoned set of standards for vetting that The real issue is  that the miner and the financial capacity of their mines may not have  existed when the mine permits were issued and there was nothing built into the regulatory framework to make that determination.

Although a performance bond is a fundamentally different instrument from insurance ( in that it comes into play only when the company cannot  or will not perform) there is nothing inherently wrong with self bonding just as there is nothing wrong with a formally created self insured retention program.  But there is something inherently wrong with a system that approves self bonding for companies that are actually not capable  of making good on that should the bonds have to called on. The whole nature of a “performance bond” is to guarantee performance when the  company fails to perform for any reason.  That requires a very different structure and legal mechanism to guarantee availability of the funds outside of bankruptcy or financial impacts on the company as a whole should the bonds be called.

All of this argues for independent expert panels in mine economics and mine finance to create  financial capacity, financial assurance standards in the first place ; vet  applicants and the mineralized assets pre-application, and monitor state of both mine feasibility and miner financial capacity life of mine.

To do otherwise  essentially makes the local community the ultimate underwriter .

The answer as Bowker Associates has long argued is better standrds on the financial capacity of the appliants pre mining and better vetting on the catual economic feasibility of the endeavor INCLUSIVE OF CLOSURE COSTS AND OF ALL OTHER ESSENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES/TECHNOLOGIES LIFE OF MINE.

Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager

Bowker Associates

Science & Research In The Public Interest

15 Cove Meadow Rd.

Stonington, Maine 04681

207 367 5145

​1/ Bowker Lindsay Newland and Chambers David M.​ The RISK, PUBLIC LIABILITY, & ECONOMICS  of TAILINGS STORAGE FACILITY FAILURES , June 2015 ( To be Presented at  the 2015 North LatitudesMiningReclamation Workshop ,  and to be released soon, draft copies available for review)

Posted in Bowker Associates, David Chambers, mining environmental risk management, mining public liability, Mining Risk Management, self funding mine closure bonds | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

TSF FAILURE BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Compilation Including Local & Regional Analysis of Consequence of Failure

This bibliography is from a draft paper (Bowker Chambers(2015)) examining the consequence of TSF Failures globally 1910 to 2010 and exploring he relationship between global economics and failure over time.   The bibliography itself is a major contribution to the understanding of TSF Failures because of its emphasis on consequence to affected communities and regions.   It also provides insights to the events leading up to failure that are not accounted for in legal and regulatory framework for mining nor in the usual dam committee reports which focus on causes of failure.  So in that sense this unique bibliography opens the door to causes and consequences not commonly part of the conversation on tailings failures.

It is our intent that this bibliography of consequence and economic causes of TSF failures grow over time both in further development of our work  and through the contributions of our colleagues and readers here for Bowker Associates ( and at Center for Science in Public Participation(

Bowker Associates has taken the unusual step of releasing our bibliography in advance of publication & release of our paper because tailings failures are so much in the fore of public discussion as are a result of Mt. Polley an den  bibliographies of relevant work are so complete.

Bowker.Lindsay Newland, Chambers David M (draft).The Risk Public Liability & Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failures to be released June 2015


Advani 2011.  Advani, Sameer  “Real Historical Copper Price”, May 30,2011, Sameer Advani’s Instablog

Azam & Li 2010.  Azam, Shahid Li, Quiran “Tailings Dam Failures: A Review of the Last 100 Years”, Geotechnical News December 2010

Bertram 2010.  Bertram, Geoff “Mining Economics & The Conservation Estate” Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc., September 2010 accessed November 2014

Boswell & Sobkowicz 2011.  Boswell, Jeremy, Sobkowicz, John  “Duty Of Care Applied To Tailings Operations”, Proceeding Tailings & Mine Waster, Vancouver B.C. Nov 6-9 2011

BCMM 2013.  British Columbia Ministry of Mines “ Provincial Summary Exploration and Mining In British Columbia 2013”

BCOAG 2011.  British Columbia, Office of the Auditor General “An Audit of the Enviornmnetal Assessments Office Oversight  of Certified Projects, July 2011

Caldwell 2006.  Caldwell,Jack “British Columbia Tailings Failure at The  HB Mine Near Salmo, British Columbia”, TechnoMine July 6, 2006

COAG 2014.  Canada, Office of the Auditor General “Implementation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development

Chambers & Higman 2011.  Chambers, David M.,  Higman, Bretwood ”Long Term Risks Of Tailings Dam Failure,”  October 2001, accessed November 2014 at

Davies et. al. 2002.  Davies, Michael, Martin,Todd  and Peter Lighthall  “Mine Tailings Dams: When Things Go Wrong,” AGRA Earth & Environmental Limited, Burnaby, BC 2002

Davies & Martin 2009.  Davies, Michael,   Martin,Todd  “Mining Market Cycles and Tailings Dam Incidents,” AMEC Earth & Environmental, Vancouver, British Columbia, Proceeding of the Thirteenth International Conference on Tailings and Mine Waste, November 1, 2009, Banff, Alberta, Canada accessed November 2014 at

EGN 2014.  Ecology Global Network “Population Estimates: Year 1 to 2050”  accessed November 2014 at

ICMM 2012.  International Council on Mining & Metals, “Trends in the Mining & Metals Industry” Mining’s Contribution To Sustainable Development October 2012.  Accessed November 2014 at M

ICOLD 1995.  International Commission on Large Dams, “Dam Failures Statistical Analysis,” Bulletin 99, 1995

ICOLD 2001.  International Commission on Large Dams and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), “Tailings Dams Risks of Dangerous Occurrences Lessons Learned From Practical Experiences,” Bulletin 121, 2001

ICSG 2014.  International Copper Study Group, Copper production statistics, November 13, 2014.

IFC 2003.  Striking a Better Balance, the World Bank Group and Extractive Industries, the Final Report of the Extractive Industries Review, International Finance Corporation, December 2003

Independent Panel 2015.  Report on Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility Breach, Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, Province of British Columbia, January 30, 2015

Jakubekl et. al. 2013.  Jakubekl, Jaret ,  Clayon, Russel, Guest Alan R., “Mudrush Risk Evaluation” CIM Journal 2013 accessed November 2014 at

Jones 2014.  Jones, Sam Jordan, Editor/Compiler “Global Mining Finance Guide 2014” Aspermont Media 2013 accessed November 2014 at

Kelly & Matos 2013.  Kelly, T.D., and Matos, G.R., comps., 2013, Historical statistics for mineral and material commodities in the United States (2013 version): U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 140, accessed November 2014, at

Knight Piesold 2011.  Knight Piesold Ltd., Mount Polley Mining Corporation Mt Polley Mine Storage Facility Report of 2010 Annual Inspection”, Prepared for Mt. Polley Mining Corporation, January 25, 2011

Kossoff et. al. 2014.  Kossoff, D. Dubbin, W.E.Porter, Edwards, S.J. , Macklin, M.G., Hudson Edwards, K.A.  “Mine Tailings Dams: Characteristics, Failure, Environmental Impacts, and Remediation”, Applied Geochemistry  V.51, 2014 PP 229-245  accessed November 2014 at

Porter & Beliwas 2003.  Porter,Kenneth E., Beliwas ,Donald I., Physical Aspects Of Waste Storage From a Hypothetical Open Pit Porphyrry Operation, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003, accessed November 2014 at

Repetto 2014.  Repetto, Robert “Silence is Golden, Leaden and Copper Disclosure of Material Environmental Information in the Hardrock Mining Industry” Yale School Of Forestry & Environmental Studies, July 2004 accessed November 2014 at

Rico et al. 2007.  Rico, M., Benito, G., Díez-Herrero, A. “Floods From Tailings Dam Failures” Geological Hazards Unit, Spanish Geological Survey (IGME), Madrid, Spain, October 2, 2007

Rico et al. 2008.  Rico, M. Benito, G., Salgueriro, A. Diez-Herrero, A. & Pereira, H.G. Reported Tailings Dam Failures: A review of the European Incidents in the Worldwide Context, Journal of Hazardous Materials 152 (2008), pp. 846–852,

Robertson 2011.  “Mine Waste Management in the 21st Century Challenges & Solutions Beyond Incremental Changes” Andrew Macgregor Robertson, Key Note Address Tailings & Mine Waste, Vancouver B.C., 2011,

Samis et. al. 2012.   Samis, M., Martinez, L., Davis, G. A., and Whyte, J. B., “Using Dynamic Discounted Cash Flow and Real Option Methods for Economic Analysis in NI 43-101 Technical Reports.” in the Valmin Seminar Series 2011-12 Proceedings, The Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Publication Series No 3/2012, 149-160 accessed December 2014 at

Schodde 2010.  Schodde, Richard “The Key Drivers Behind Resource Growth: An Analysis of the Copper Industry For the Last 100 Years”, Mine EX Consulting, 2010 MEMS Conference Minerals and Metals  Over the Long Term, Phoenix Arizona, March 3, 2010 .

Stano 2011.  Stano, Maya “Rave Mine: A Regulatory & Fiscal Black Hole” Environmental Law Centre, Spring 2011

Troncosco et. al. 1993.  Troncosco, J.H. , Avendano, A. Vergara, A. “The Seismic Failure of Barahona Tailings Dam” Procedings: 3rd International Conference on Case Histories in Geotechnical Engineering, St. Louis, Missouri, June 1-4, 1993, Paper # 2.56, Accessed November 2014 at

USGS 2014a.  U.S. Geological Survey “Historical Statistics for Mineral and Material Commodities in the United States” Thomas D. Kelly and Grecia R. Matos, with major contributions provided by David A. Buckingham, Carl A. DiFrancesco, Kenneth E. Porter, and USGS mineral commodity specialists.    Data Series 140, April 2014. Accessed November 2014 at

USGS 2014b.  U.S. Geological Survey “Iron Ore Statistics” Compiled by T.D. Kelly (retired), W.S. Kirk (retired), J.D. Jorgenson (retired), and C.A. Tuck. Data Series 140 2014   Accessed November 2014  at

USGS 2014c.  U.S. Geological Survey “Zinc Statistics” April 2014 Compiled By DiFranceso, C.A.  Plachy, J., Gabby P.N., Bleiwas,D.I., Tolcin, A.C. Data Series 140 April 2014

Utah 2011.  State of Utah, “Groundwater Quality Discharge Permit UGW350011 Kennecott Utah Copper, Magna Utah, January 2011,  Accessed November 2014 at

Valero et. al. 2011.  Valero, Alicia, Valero, Antonio and Domiguez, Adriana “Trends of Energy Costs and Ore Grade in Global Mining”, Centre Of Research Energy Resources & Consumption ( CIRCE), Spain, 2011, Accessed November 2014 at$FILE/cp0751.pdf

Vick 1996.  Vick, Steven G. Failure of the Omai Storage Dam Geotechnical News, September 1996, Accessed November 2014 at

Vogt 2013.  Vogt, Craig, International Assessment of Marine & Riverine Disposal of MineTailings Final Report Adopted By The International Maritime Organization, London Convention.Protocol, October 18, 2013

Wei et. al. 2012.  Wei, Zuan, Yin, Guangszhi, Wang J.G, Ling, Wan, Guangzhi, Li  “Design Construction and Management of Tailings Storage Facilities For Surface Disposal In China: Case Studies of Failures” Waste Management An Research Vol 31 p 106-112 Sage Publications October 11,2012

WISE 2014.  World Information Service on Energy Uranium Project, Chronology of Major Tailings Dam Failures, from 1960, updated 16 Nov 2014,

Witt & Schonhardt 2004.  Witt, K.J. Schonhardt M. Editors  Tailings Management Facilities, Risk &Reliability, TAILSAFE September 2004

World Bank 2006.  World Bank Group, Oil Gas  Mining & Chemicals Group, Background Paper The Outlook For Metals Markets Prepared For G-20 Deputies Meeting Sydney 2006,  September 2006

Posted in Center For Science in Citizen Participation, David Chambers, Lindsay Newland Bowker, TSF Failure Bibliography, TSF Failures Consequence | Leave a comment


Maine’s lobbyist/ extraction industry dictated mining rules were rejected by majority vote of the Maine legislature  last term.  In the interim new elections changed the party balance in the senate and reduced the majority in the house of its  legislature. Without authority, and contrary to the advice of Maine’s Attorney General, DEP simply re submitted the rejected rules with no changes.  This questionably legal deliberation is proceeding under LD146.
An alternative ‘”responsible mining” bill, LD750, has been advanced by physicist Ralph Chapman, a member of Maine’s legislature representing  a district which includes Maine’s only two prior mine developments both failed and one a superfund site.( The Callahan Mine, Brooksville and the Kerramerica Mine Blue Hill). The bill, as Rep. Chapman characterizes it, represents a paradigm shift from the obviously failed “punitive  model of deterrence via payment for damages to one that attempts to prevent outcomes which will likely  compromise environmental security. and/or pose challenges to environmental security that  cannot be managed by any known proven technology.
Here is Representative Chapmans  framing of his bill at a hearing before  Maine’s Committee of jurisdiction on Monday March 30 in Augusta.
IP – LD 750 Pt 1 of 3 53m


The film was made by Eric A. Tuttle ,  one of several Maine videographers who have “Occupied Democracy” by filming public hearings sessions and posting publicly so Mainer’s unable to travel to Augusta can hear and evaluate for themselves.
At the end of his quiet professorial presentation, Rep. Chpaman in follow up questions with JSC ENR Committee members, had an an iconic exchange with Rep. John Martin that crystalizes the central issue: whether metallic mining is so valuable to the worlds economy that its pollution should be tolerated  for the “greater good” of having the metals or whether the world demand for metals should be met only through responsible  sustainable methods that insure environmental security now and in the future as closed facilities age and weather.
Representative Chapman summarizes his paradigm of repsonsible mining as founded on four common sense  principles:
(1) disallowing miners  and key consutant/sub contractors with bad track records
(2) allowing only those plans which can control or prevent contamination with known proven technology and
(3) continual acquisition of best knowledge and best guidance through  independent expert peer review ( independent of regulator and of mine proponent/operator) and
(4) a “life of mine” approach to oversight geared to  early recognition and response to contingences which fundamentally increase the level of environmental security risk.
Rep John Martin,  the original champion of Maine’s new mining statute challenged ” Aren’t you really just prohibiting mining, putting up barriers that make it impossible to mine in Maine?” ( paraphrased not transcribed)
Comfortaby, simply, non reactively, Representative Chapman replies: “Are you saying you don’t think there are responsible miners or that the mining industry is incapable of mining without pollution?  I don’t believe that.  I think the industry can attain responsible mining and I think we in Maine should frame our law to allow only that.  We should do it right if we are going to do it all” ( paraphrased)
The second part of LD750 proposes a moratorium on all mining permits until the statute can be realigned with its implementing rules,  In what may or may not have been an error in framing, the statute( Pl 2011 c.653)  provided a date certain (June 1, 2014) , for implementation of the statute but provided that its implementing rules required legislative approval before going into effect.  It stipulated that the old 1991 rules remain in effective until the new rules are legislatively approved.  This has left the old rules in effect without the law to which they refer in tact and with many areas of direct conflict between the statute and the old 1991 rules.
Bowker Associates wrote the following to Maine’s Committee of Jursidiction (JSC ENR) on the conflict in legal opinion as between DEP & Mining Lobby advocates on behalf of JD Irving and a lawyer retained by public advocate Charles advise JSC ENR on interpretation of the statute..
Dear Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources:
Further to yesterdays hearing on LD750, there is an obvious legal discrepancy between DEP/Irving Lobbyist interpretation of what applies under the status quo ( 1991 rules with new statute already law  as of June 1,2014) and what was opined to you by  Clifford Ruprecht, Esq. counsel to Charles Fitzgerald last term.
This alone calls for a change of planned course to insure once again that the JSC ENR seeks a clear and  legally binding alignment of the mining statute with its implementing rules as proposed in  LD750.  With this much legal uncertainty  on what would fundamentally govern any mining permit advanced, any consideration of continuing the status quo ( old rules new statute) is not an option in the public interest.
JSC ENR has no choice but to either provide a legislative cure as (proposed by LD750) or to suspend all work sessions and further consideration of the re submitted previously rejected rules until the Attorney General has ruled on this matter in a way that firmly binds DEP to a specific interpretation of law.
This letter from Portland Law Firm Roach, Ruprecht, Sanchez and Bischoff initiated by Bowker Associates(1)  opines that interpretation of the statute per normal rules of construction means the 1991 rules in their entirety ( not the mining statute that went effect June 1) now  governs any permit application. (ie any new permits would have to rely still on the pre-June1 revisions to Maine’s mining Law on which the 1991 rules rely). In the cpurse of public heraings  on March 30, 2015, Representative Duchesne wisely pointed to the circularity that would otherwise apply if this were not the case.
If Portland Attorneys are correct, this trumps Governor Le Page’s veto of proposed law in the  126th Session which sought this clear statutory alignment between the mining statute and its implementing regulations.  That is, if Mr. Ruprecht is correct,  we already have  the pre -mining statute status legally. If Mr. Ruprechts interpretation is correct that PL 2011 c.53 ( Ld 1853) is not “self implementing”  the slice and dice of the Maine’s environmental law that went into effect on June 1 cannot actually be applied to the processing and oversight of any permit.  Surely our own Attorney General can and should resolve this.  If the Ruprecht  letter is correct then we in effect already have a moratorium on implementation of PL 2011 C.653.
But given First Deputy Commissioner Heather Parents strong and repeated different interpretation, affirmed at the end by Irving lobbyist Tom Doyle of Pierce Atwood there is still uncertainty if nothing in  law actually binds DEP to the Ruprecht interpretation or even the Attorney General’s concurrence with it.
 I know you had no stenographer at yesterdays hearings but we have the video from which a transcript of exactly what both Ms. Parent & Mr.Doyle said .  My very clear memory ( this has been a key Bowker Associates issue from the outset so I pay very close attention to all that is said and written on this point) is that Ms. Parent more than once said that presently in processing a permit DEP would go by the new mining statute where there is a conflict.  Irving lobbyist Tom  Doyle  who had not planned to testify ( he said) thought it important enough  to affirm the same as Ms. Parent when he got up to  speak at the end of the hearing.  This is an untenable difference of opinion  with Maine’s environmental security and purse strings so highly at stake.
 Co-Cairs, Weslh & Savilelo , and members Harlow & Chipman know and hopefully have already shared with other committee members, how and why JSC ENR wisely decided last session not withstanding this  letter to call for the “moratorium” LD750 advcates now. ( That was also Bowker Associates advocacy)
It is on the basis of this letter that NRCM, Conservation Law  and other signatories to a 2nd  letter from the same law firm  have not, until the most recent hearing on March 30, called for the moratorium LD750 advocates ( by way of crystal clear clarification of intent).
LD750 is a certain path to legal clarity that is unambiguously binding on DEP.This alone clearly establishes that statute is the only way to resolve  this issue and avoid the chaos that will otherwise ensue.
JSCENR cannot and should not take any further action on LD146 until this issue is resolved in a way that is legally binding on DEP and all mining proponents in simple clear unambiguous language.
Just the existence of this conflict in interpretation is reason to adopt the the path Rep Chapmans bill LD750 urges.  To do otherwise puts Maine’s environmental security and Maine taxpayers at extraordinary and inexcusable risk.
I have copied other parties of interest to this further comment on LD750 includig Maine press who have covered mining and all official “interested parties”
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager
Bowker Associates
Science & Research In The Public Interest
15 Cove Meadow Rd.
Stonington, Maine 04681

(1) Bowker Associates was pursuing a legal opinion of Mr. Roach of whether the BEP vote approving the rule was legal as substantive additions had been made without the MAPA required 10 day notice and also on whether a failure to reject the rules would trigger “the poison pill” and automatically make the rules legal.  Mr.Fitzgerald had agreed to fund that engagement of Roach under Bowker Associates direction and control but after conferring with NRCM and Conservation Law, Mr. Fitzgerald elected to go this route. Unfortunately there was never an official finding as to whether Mr. Roaches opinion is correct and legally binding on DEP and mining proponents.  ​

Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager
Bowker Associates
Science & Research In The Public Interest
15 Cove Meadow Rd.
Stonington, Maine 04681

Here are two additional portins of the entire hearing on LD75 on Monday March 30 in Augusta.

IP – LD 750 Pt 2 of 3 1h21m
IP – LD 750 Pt 3 of 3 1h16
Posted in Bald Mountain Aroostook Maine, Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest, JD Irving, John Martin Maine Legisilature, LD146127th Maine Legislature, LD1750 Maine 126th Legislature, Lindsay Newland Bowker, Maine Mining Law, Maine Mining Rules, Mining Risk Management, Ralph Chapman, Responsible Mining | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From The Community Living With The Aftermath of the Mt. Polley Tailings Failure Catastrophe

Suffering ,Imperfections And Life’s Realities

By Lola Lawton

My children swam in a tailing pond for ten years before I knew the quarry was an abandoned mine tailing pond Deloro Ontario grossly contaminated with arsenic and arsenic compounds, refining slag laboratory wastes , lead, cobalt, nickel and copper, mercury and other metals. Gamma radiation hot spots were also discovered. The Ministry of Environment had taken responsibility for the abandoned mine site thirty years ago from 1988 until 1999. As a visitor to the community I had no knowledge. I asked a resident, ‘why is the water at the swimming hole that color?’ She said, “Because It is a spring fed pool.’”

Lola Lawton Lola lives in Ontraio but because of her experience  with the swimming hole that was a tailings pond felt a great  empathy with the community around Mt. Polley  and has been active with others in trying to understand what it all means for the community going forward. Her film is an expression of her personal grief and  an eloquent testament to the confusion and fear of a community living with the uncertainty of one of the greatest mine catastrophes in recorded history Once upon A Time video tribute Mount Polley Mine Disaster Lola Lawton is a parent teacher for kinetic learners. She advocates for the fair and equal treatment of all peoples, to have access to clean water, fertile soil and fresh air. She writes children’s literature and poems and has created The World’s largest Four Directional Dream Catcher. She is passionate about First Nations and Inuit, Metis childhood nutrition.

Posted in Imperial Metals, Mt. Polley Tailings Dam Failure Impacts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


To whom it may concern,

The agreement that the Environment and Natural Resources Committee chairs, Senator Tom Saviello and Representative Joan Welsh, made with me that my mining bill (LD750) would have a public hearing prior to the work session on the re-submitted rejected rules from last term (LD146) has been broken: LD750 has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing (though it is in the hands of the Committee), and LD146 has a scheduled work session this Thursday, March 19, at 2:30pm.

Representative Ralph Chapman

March 15, 2015

That was not just a promise made to you Ralph, it was a promise  made to “we the people”​.
Committee action on LD146, though,  requires exactly what LD750 is aiming at.
The law, MAPA 257,  requires that the JSC ENR speak specifically and clearly to how the re submitted rules align with legislative intent.
The Attorney General has advised JSC ENR of their duty in this regard.  They cannot avoid speaking to whether intent was
(1) that the same standards of environmental protection in site of development  and natural resources protection law were expected to apply in the mining irules in a way that better acknolwdged the ultra high risk and complexisties of mining or
(2) whetherthe intent was, as mining interest lobbyists intended,   to remove the insurmountable barrier these standards pose to maine’s known metal depsoits because of the high arsenic high sulfide geochemistry of these deposits and their proximity to protected surface waters.
It’s as simple as that.
That is the only clarification needed, really, and all else falls into place with perfect clarity.
This drifting off into this one’s list of 10 specific changes and that one’s additional 5 is just smoke and mirrors diverting everyone’s attention from this one core confusion.
To proceed on the basis that this one’s list or that one’s will “fix the rules” in a way that prevents the issuance of permits for mine plans and mine operators that will as, Dr. Moran has warned, GUARANTEEE non remediable long term ongoing breaches of environmental security at the publics sole expense is a breach of public duty to this generation and to future generations.
JSC/ENR has breached its public duty  three tmes  already:
(1) once in not recognizing immediately that they did not possess the technical, scientific and legal knowledge to write  mining law in a hurried last minute lobbyist paid initiative ( or at all); the legal authority to write law is not the same as the moral and ethical obligation to write law that is wise, well informed and sound with respect to the public interest.
(2) once on LD1302 a foolishly misinformed statutory fix ( instead of repealing PL 2011 c.653 and starting over);
(3) and last session in not meeting its duty under law to clarify whether or not legislative intent is for mining to be subject to the same standards and policy as govern site of development and natural resouces protection law t.
We can’t assume, and I have no knowledge that, this planning  session announced with no public notice, will be more of the same pressing along the same disastrous course.  It does not bode well, I’d agree. (  The session this Thursday is a planning session not a work session)
I still see room and opportunity for a final and workable course correction on mining but it cannot happen unless this JSC ENR finally says with perfect clarity and in plain English whether it intends that mining be held to lower standards of law viz site of develoment and natural resources protection law or whether its intent was to recognize the unique complexities and very high risks of minng  in a mining specific rule to these same standards.
We can still do that and we have to hope that JSC ENR finally gets that.
I have copied all 256 interestedparties and all of Maine’s journalists who have covered mining on this email.
Whatever happens, the work you, Christoper Johnnson, Ben Chipman , Geoff Gratwock and before you James Boyle have done to elevate and reframe the discussion of mining policy away from the false information of modern technology  and modern law making mining safe  viz environmental security and that mining means jobs toward the geochemical realities of sulfide mining in general and our utra high risk deposits in particular.  You are on my wall of heroes and your work has made a huge difference in the public conversation on mining.  That was the story of the 2/25 hearings.  So many speaking in heir own authentic voices beyond petitions and canned  agendas.
The law is always slow to come to terms with realties like this and often makes  fatal mistakes in both directions, too much and too little effective envionmntal security. What you all have accomplished has definitely changed public expectations and public understanding and will therefore eventually be law.
I wasn’t at the hearing but I understand a loud cheer went up wen Chris Johnson gave his eloquent testimony.  It is clear that is what the public demand of all its law makers.
UPDATE 1843 EST 3/17  There will be a public hearing on Rep Chapmans bill , LD750on the 30th .  There will be no work sessions on any other mining bill before that.  The planning session this Thursday may be attended any one.  This was co chair Welsh’s promise and she has delivered/  Thank you Co-Chair Welsh.  Thank you!!!!
UPDATE 03/27/15  It seems very clear the JSC ENR has no intention of clarifying policy as the law requires and  have pre decided an ought not to pass on Chapmans bill and its fundamental call to policy clarifications.
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