Moments ago Vale, BHP and Samarco concluded their press conference presenting the findings of their indepdendent panel on the causes of the Fundao Tailings dam failure . The report was commissioned by Vale. A full copy in English is up at www.funadoinvestigation.com
Within the narrow frame of “proximate causes” the report identifies three major inter related factors that combined to set up the failure events
Another central aspect is how their deposition was influenced by a series of unplanned occurrences during the dam’s construction and operation. Together, these incidents established the conditions that allowed the failure to take place. These included: (1) damage to the original Starter Dam that resulted in increased saturation; (2) deposition of slimes in areas where this was not intended; and (3) structural problems with a concrete conduit that caused the dam to be raised over the slimes.:Fundao Investigation Report
A shameful obfuscation and sad that folk of the caliber of Dr.Steven Vick and Committee Chair Dr. Norbert Morgenstern would allow this as both also did on the Mt Polley investigation. Shameful because the narrow contractually defined focus on “proximate cause of failure “, masks avoids and obfuscates all questions of material relevance to a more comprehensive understanding of causes of failure and of the role Samarco, Vale and BHP played in fostering and furthering those root causes.
Of course if the Brazil Prosecutor and police are paying close attention they will not allow this giant PR ploy to stand and will end up getting Dr’s Vick and Morgenstern to say more under oath under compulsion of subpoena.The United Nations most likely won’t let it stand as a final word either.
Meanwhile BHP and Vale, if not Samarco, will get a bit of a boost with investors from investment analysts who will be so excited by this report they won’t stop for a second before announcing BHP Vale and Samrco vindicated by expert panel. Watch. Inevitable.
The presentation was made by the elegant serene Dr Morgenstern and followed by questions from press . It was limited only to what they were contractually asked and allowed to address by Vale, their employer and a key contributor to the events. The carefully narrowly delineated scope, gives the impression as they did at Mt. Polley, that even though the failure was well advanced and inevitable ( my words not the carefully spoken Dr. M’s) it was not detectable by any customary monitoring equipment or by the human eye. ( The hall pass part)
In other words they have allowed their names and stature in the industry to give Samarco, Vale and BHP a big pass that will no doubt help their ratings and help in their defense against the the claims and criminal cases as well.
Of course if the Brazilian prosecutor sees through all this, this will not stand as the last word as it did at Mt Polley. The prosecutor does not have to settle for this nor do the police in charge of criminal investigations and hopefully won’t in either case..
Rate of Raise
The quiet dignified immaculately groomed Dr. Morgenstern ducked the rate of raise question as a contributing cause.many times. The first time he straight out papered over it stating what the maximum design height was and that the TSF was receiving what was generated and moving towards that planned height. The rate of raise and the design height , as he very very very well knows violates the 10 commandments for upstream dam construction . I have to look ..wasn’t he a co author on that and an original contributor to those 10 commandments?
It is a huge huge failing that the panel did not speak to that when specifically asked several times. To the second question on rate of raise as a contributing factor Dr. Morgenstern said the full record was in the report and gave the exact location. In another comment he noted that the right abutment had the same rate of raise and showed no deformation .
A surprise were the findings and questions on the earthquake. Panel ( as spoken for by Dr. Morgenstern) said the earthquake definitely preceded the failure and they had examined the records carefully on that ( have to read the report to see how they established the time of failure). In the 1937 Mexico failure where the failure precipitated the earthquake a very loud clap preceded the actual break and the clap was the start of the big slide which triggered the earthquake. He said the panel found that the role of the earthquake was only as an accelerant of an already advanced failure condition.
He did note though that the right abutment showed no deformation nor other “adverse response” to the little tremor.
Design, Or Implementation of Design at Fault
At the outset of the press conference Vale’s Press Secretry said that press questions were to be limited to the content presented and that all questions of fault or otherwise outside the spefic material in the report ” would be disregarded”
Dr. Morgenstern specifically ducked all questions about whether the failure in the drainage was a result of design of the drainage system or a flaw in the construction of a good design saying it was not in their scope to address beyond proximate cause of failure the standard limitation in all dam failure reports.
Left Abutment a Deviation from Design.
On the same basis he ducked very well researched and very well informed questions about whether the left abutment was a deviation from original design and whether the original design would have held ( the failure was at that abutment to which one time engineer in charge Pimenta De Avila had referred many times as an unstudied deviation from the original design).
All in all I’d say the report. not unlike the Mt Polley report is a sort of red herring taking analysis away from a more comprehensive analysis of root causes of failure and if it is allowed to stand unchallenged in that regard gives BHP Vale and even Samarco a big hall pass.
Ducked All Questions About Vale’s Illegal Dumping At The Fundao
Several press asked about the documented amounts Vale desposited in the tailings dam without authority from Minas Gerais Offcials and whether that contributed to the failure or escalated the risk. To all Dr. Mogenstern calmly said their scope was limited only to the sequence of geophysical events leading to failure.
No Examination of Deviation From Advice of Inpdependent Panel & Advisors
There were no questions and no answers would have been forthcoming anyway on what the mine independent panel chaired by Angela Kuipers had advised in any of these matters nor on what the advisory board including Dr. Andrew Macgrgeor Robertson, head of Info mine and of Mining.com had to say.
All in all I guess I am saying the use of some very distinguished people in the field to pull off a giant white wash of the real issues and a full examination of the real causes of failure is an insult and perhaps injury to the public interest unless the bold Brazilian prosecutor acts to make sure this hall pass does not stand.
I was very very impressed by the in depth knowledge all press had and it is shameful that unapologetically so many good questions directly relevant and key to a more thorough examination of root causes were met with “that was not in the purview of our commission”( my summary phrase of the many different ways Dr .Morgenstern responded to key questions.
I think Dr. Morgenstern and Dr. Vick owe the world. They should never have accepted a commission to do this for Vale knowing full well what constraints would attend. No doubt they are also contractually required to be silent forever in all these other questions and to not speak publicly ever beyond what is on the contract given to the panel and the report they generated pursuant to that obfuscating scope.
A subpoena trumps that contractual obligation and the elegant Dr. Morgenstern may yet have to answer those questions as a key expert witness.
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU ARM
Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest