Although still not final, I wanted to share this very compelling table restating all TSF failures since 1958 by decade ending in 12/31/2017 and introducing the “Public Consequence Index” Bowker Associates has developed to more precisely describe the dimension of public consequence within our 4 severity categories established as part of the failures database in 2015. This table and associated graphs, charts, analysis will be part of the soon to be released updated failures data base and the index will be separately documented and presented in a formal paper.
It is important to note that the Bowker Chambers failures database , is “all minerals”: metals, hydrocrabons, other industrial minerals and fertilizers following form with the original failures database established by international expert panel convened by ICOLD and UNEP in 2000.
The severity classifications Dr. Chambers & I developed for the TSF failures database were based on the three consequence parameters developed by ICOLD( International Committee on Large Dams) & UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) in 2000 and first presented in Bulletin 121: release, runout, deaths. The first 4 columns of the above table are counts by decade of those four severity ratings.
The public consequence index, the last column in the above table, is indexed with reference to the decade 1990-1999 which prompted the UNEP/ICOLD “red alert” leading to the joint evaluation of causes and scale of consequence by the 2000 expert panel which notably included Steven Vick. This index makes it possible to combine the three consequence measures into a single meaningful aggregate score. By inspection it is clear that government and industry did not heed the call Bulletin 121 called for in 2000. The “public consequnce index” has steadily and dramatically increased in each of the two decades since the global expert panel issued Bulletin 121.
This table is full of revelations and stunning stats and facts.
(1) a given count of “very serious” failures for a time period includes a wide variation in degree of consequence within the Bowker-Chambers established for a “very serious”: release >1M cubic meters; or runout>20km; or multiple deaths. The present decade 2008-2017 has only more “very serious failure” relative to the last two decades, but it has a dramatically higher public consequence score. As compared with the main part of the supercycle decade (here approximated as 1998-2007) the index increased by 23%, from 99k to 122k
(2) the average storage capacity of all dams in the database increased more than 3 fold to 52 M cubic meters 2008-2017 from 16M cubic meters in the approximate supercycle decade (1998-2007) . We can’t say that this is an accurate representation of average facility size for all existing facilities globally but it is the best estimate available at the moment.
(3) The average release overall increased by almost 5 fold from 21M in 1998-2007 to 93M 2008-2017. The average release for “very serious” failures increased more than 6 fold from 3M to 19M ( the attached table does not show the severity indicators by overall severity code. we will be presenting that in our overall documentation on the index)
(4) The average height for all TSF’s in the data base as compared with the most recent decade is notable as well; 15m overall as compared with 33m 2008-2017. Again impossible to say whether 33 m is an accurate reflection of the entire population of TSF’s globally but it is the best available estimate of global average. The approximate to the reference decade in this table ( 1988-1997) had an average height only 4 m less, at 29 even though 1988-1997 had a much much smaller average release (7.5M cu meters).
(5) The combination of storage capacity and height suggests that the dramatically higher Public Consequence Index of the most recent decade and its escalation since the ICOLD/UNEP reference decade is more closely linked to dramatically increased facility capacity which in turn is attributable to the greater demand for waste capacity necessitated by lower grades across all minerals sectors. It is popularly assumed, though until now never actually measured, that an expected increase in severity of failures would be more driven by greater heights. As all three of our Bowker-Chambers partnered research projects on causes of failure have suggested pushing capacity and rate of capacity expansion at existing TSF without adequate study is a more central problem
The three international metals study groups have commissioned a global survey of wastes for the zinc/lead, copper and nickel sectors of metal. Bowker Associates was invited to submit a proposal for this study but suggested Gavin Mudd whose already compiled data bases in these three metals sectors gave him immediate capacity we did not have and could not build. Gavins study will be presented at the October meeting of national members of the study groups in Lisbon. ( Bowker Associates has also been invited to address national members at this meeting on major risks confronting metals mining governance). ICMM has also acknowledged the global escalation of waste volume to finished production tonne as a major issue. John Atherton, Director of ICMM presented at the Study Group meeting in the Spring of 2017.
Bowker Associates major concern for the coming decade is adequate TSF capacity to meet expected production needs across all mineral sectors even with no further across sector declines in available grades. If the minerals extraction sectors at the national governance level each choose to proceed at even lower grades, instead of re evaluating viable economic “hurdle grades” the public consequence index for the next decade, 2018-2027, will be astronomically higher .
By trend line the projected “public consequence index” 2018-2025 will escalate from 122k to 160k, a 31% increase, if national and provincial/local governance does not shift its attention to escalation of mine waste volumes per unit of mineral produced and introduce supply side reforms which pay realistic attention to global economic feasibilty hurdles.
What we measure is a failure of resource governance.
The industry often says that its practices exceed what is required by law and policy, a highly debatable contention, but public consequence is a government responsibility. Affected communities must pay closer attention to what the law actually requires and what mechanisms and competence are available for supervision, life of mine, life of facility.
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager
Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest