Jack Caldwell, ( who I respect and admire very much not just for his expertise on TSF’s but for his fidelity to advocating for best knowledge, best management in their design, construction, management and closure..for donkeys years.) posted this morning from his blog ( I Think Mining.Com) that Steven G. Vick  publicly acknowledged at a Tailings Conference yesterday that 100% of all TSF’s will fail. If Vick is right ( and I would never dispute anything about TSF’s with Vick or Jack) then a very rough first cut calculation is that the total unfunded and perhaps unfundable public liability just from TSF’s alone is $(us)1.05 trillion.  That is $(us)150  per person for every person alive on earth today ( see my post at I think Mining for details..I will post here as footnote later today) I didn’t hear the actual full context myself and I am sure he was in part simply saying “no man made structure can last forever” but having read many of his papers and many of the dam committee reports on failed TSF’s that he investigated, in particular OMAi (Guyana 1994) I think he means more than that.  He has seen the deep flaws in permitted TSF’s not just in reviewing failed ones but in his other work as well as perhaps one of the top three experts in the world on TSF’s.  He knows what skeletons are in the closet and I have seen that too in my deep dive into what has shaped that global inventory of currently operating TSF’s.

In my business (..Risk Assessment, Risk Management, Risk Finance), an event that is certain is not within the definition of a “risk”. If the probability of failure of a TSF is 100% as  Vick is reported to have said (probability of failure=1) ( ie it is not a question of whether but when) then we are not talking about “risk” we are talking about 100’s of standing TSF’s globally every single one of which could  eventually fail, not because human structures can’t last 100’s of years but because most were built without regard to known and widely accepted best practices.  He knows that.  That is what he is most likely pointing to.. That formula from “my industry”used by Vick & Robertson is not proper if in fact there is 100% certainty that all TSF’s will fail eventually. In my world of expertise that formula is used to evaluate the consequence of random events not the consequence of a certain event where accepted practice is to build structures that will fail.

In fact , by coincidence, the paper we will soon release arrives at exactly what Vick has said and I have been working the past two days on the best numbers to describe both the geographic scale and economic consequence of that reality.Ie the total unfunded and presently unfundable economic public and environmental consequence of the entire TSF profile globally. ( By the way every chapter in this work in progess is headed by a quote from a mining industry leaders..just this second I have switched out the lead to that chapter for Vick’s authoritative quote.(.thank you Jack) frames our point so beautifully and sets up the numbers that will follow that quote in our paper.)

I am sure Vick’s point is the same as my conclusion..that therefore we have to focus on reducing consequence to the fullest extent possible..I have been writing to Jack and others for weeks now that the policy goal has to be to move TSF’s from their historic and unsustainable loss rate down to something closer to the failure rate for water dams.   In other words we have to take chronic chosen deviation from best knowledge and best practice out of the process.

The level of chosen deviation from known best practice, best science , best knowledge  is not a tolerable  reality for  something with such massive economic consequence geographically, environmentally. It’s not acceptable that Imperials LLC and the structure of Canadian and Provincial law will effectively completely insulate Imperial from the consequence of this loss as happened with Omai( Guyana 1994) and with Bolden at Los Frailles. The creation of shells which shield a company against consequence is not an acceptable condition of the social license to operate especially where the public demand is “polluter pays”.

Business as usual is not an option. That is really what Dr. Vick is saying.

We set out just to map why it is the polluter never pays for the massive public and environmental consequences of a TSF failure, to show that it is always tax payer pays or just accept the loss. When we laid out everything it took to explain the entire context of that we almost immediately saw in the numbers what Vick has now publicly pronounced. ( we are assuming Jack has  correctly reported Vicks remarks, of course because we trust and respect him)

I previously outlined in Jacks post mocking me what the strategy has to be to lower consequence. to conditions that will continue the “social license to operate” Let me preface my list by saying I have been a policy wonk for 43 years and have all my life fought against, denounced and tried to fix or eradicate command and control approaches to law and regulation. Law & regulation  have to be workable and doable and understand the actual operations and constraints on an industry.  It has to “map into” the actual flow of an industry. I believe the West Autralian structure, just accomplished, actually does that. It can be done. It just hasn’t been tried yet in the U.S, and Canada.

I have written extensively about flaws in U.S laws like Superfund, Lead In Construction , Asbestos Statutes &Regs etc.c. for Lloyds Environmental Risk Management, Managing Risk For Loss Control & Prevention, the CPCU Journal, Business Insurance and the Risk Management Journal. (A lovely professional photo of me & my bunny rabbit,”Bugs” actually were the full top page cover of business insurance once) So when I speak of controls via regulation I am not talking about the usual, I am talking about something more like what West Australia has done, something that can actually work, something that doesn’t add ridiculous levels of costs with out any justifiable corresponding public benefit.

(1) it is too late for incremental fixes permit by permit new TSF by new TSF.The “infestation” is too severe from too many years of building a TSF inventory that rejects best practices ( not as our paper will show out of will but out of cash flow pressures and economic realities of developing and operating a mine) Companies do what they do to survive or perish or Sam Jones put it .

(2) New entry has to be more tightly controlled not just on strict adherence to best pactices but also on the financial capacity of the operator and existence of a responsibly managed risk finance plan for all public and environmental liabilities.

(3) new entry new permits) have to be conditioned on each applicant accounting for and having an aggressive program for looking at all its standing TSF’s ( not just in the political jurisdiction issuing the permit..ALL of them and making fixes or building new TSF’s as necessary to address those at highest risk of major consequence.

As is clear in our paper when its all laid out this is a co-ventured reality of  too many  standing  currently permitted and operating TSF’s. It is the product of a longstanding partnership and mutual consent between government and the industry. We the people were looking in the wrong places or advocating for the wrong things as all this shaped the profile of the thousands of standing TSF’s globally.

The final reality ad toughest sell where the public expects “polluter pays” is a tough sell. The consequence of loss and the costs to fix it has to be shared. Government just can’t turn back to the industry and say fix this by 2020. Every tax payer in every jurisdiction that issues permits for mines and has standing mines will have to also be part of this investment. Thank You Jack. Thank you Steven G. Vick Now Lets’ get to work working on a workable strategy together for tackling that unacceptably high consequence of unfunded public and environmental loss.

The Dam Review Committee report on Mt. Polley isn’t on the critical path to that.

We know that already.


About lindsaynewlandbowker

Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest, is an independent non profit providing self initiated pro bono analysis on key issues with a potential for massive adverse environmental impact . Bowker Associates has been an internationally recognized and cited voice in analysis of the Samarco failure, its consequence, and the possibilties for recovery. In 2015 Bowker Associates collaborated with globally respected geophysicist David M. Chambers to recompile global authoritative accounts of significant TSF failures in recorded history and to analyze these data in the context of gloal mining economics 1910-2010 ( Risk, Economics and Public Liability of TSF Failures, Bowker/Chambers July 2015) In 2014 Bowker Associates commissioned globally respected geophysicist and hydrogeologist Dr. David Chambers to undertake two technical works: (1) development of technical go no go criteria for vetting mine applications tp:// and (2) a case study of Maine's Bald Mountain, an un mined low grade high risk VMS deposit demonstrating the efficacy and accuracy of two risk assessment tools in vetting mine proposals In Maine, Bowker Associates has deeply engaged and been a public voice in the Searsport DCP LPG Tank, The Cianbro proposal for a Private East West Toll Road, JD Irvings rolling pipeline of Bakken crude to its plant in St. John and review of Phase II plans at The Callahan Superfund site in Brooksville, Maine, and Maine's revisitation of mining in statute and regulation... Our only “client”: is always “the pubic interest”. Our model is to focus on only one or two issues at a time so that we have a substantive command of the relevant field as our foundation for ongoing engagement. Our core work is in envirommental risk management, science and technology as well as bringing any available “best practices” models to the fore. The legal and regulatory history/best models are also a major thrust of our work in building and evaluating public policy. Director/Principal Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM is a recognized expert in Environmental Risk Management., Heavy Construction Risk Management and Marine and Transit Risks and has more than 3 decades of engagement in buiding public policy. Appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to New York State Banking Board (served 1986-1996); President New York Chapter Chartered Property and Casualty Insurers; Environmental Committee, Risk and Insurance Management Society; Director, Convenor/Co-Chair Bermuda Market Briefing "From Captive to Cats" Hamilton Bermuda. Published Articles of Significance The Risk Economics and Public Liability of Tailings Facility Failures, co-authored with David M. Chambers, July 2015 Beyond. Polarization: Superfund Reform in Perspective, Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control (Jan. 24, 1997). Lead Hazards and Abatement Technologies in Construction: A Risk Management Approach CPCU Journal 1997 Employee Leasing: Liability in Limbo Risk Management June 1 1997 Environmental Audit Privilege and the Public interest Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control, April 1997 Asbestos:Holes In Abatement Policies Need To Be Plugged, Lloyd’s Environmental Risk International, May 1993 Editor Published Letters Evironmental Risk Management Beware of Facile Policies Like Fetal Protection Business Insurance 1995(?) High Court Review May Increase Sale of Bank Annuities Business Insurances August 8, 1995 Professional Profiles Protecting the Big Apple’s Core Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Control December 1996 Major Career Highlights First rigorous analysis showing Relationship Between declining ore grades and TSF Failures of increasing consequence ( July 2015) FIrst Documentation that Gentrification Has Same Impacts as Unassisted Displacement from Urban Renewal Sites Direted Court Ordered EIS of FHA Mortgage Scandal Created Nation's First Homeownership Program for Low Income People (SHIP) Created Earliest Geographic Information Systems Using Defense Technology Developed By IBM Designed and Conducted Parallel Census Count to Show Systematic undercount in minority neighborhoods Documented Bias in ISO Territory Rating Plans for Private Passenger Auto Insurance Using ISO's own Rating Techniques Demonstrated Inherent Bias in Mortgage Policies of Banks With Inner City Branches Demonstrated that NY Telephones Plan for Area Code Split To accommodate anticipated cell phone demand was not efficient and would exhaust in 5 years ( which it did) Undertook First Systematic Evaluation of Child Protective Services Caseload Using Multi Variate Analyic Techniques Developed Child Protective Caseload Management and Tracking System (CANTS) and directed implementation in 4 client states including Illinois, Florida and New York Created and Ran Office of Risk Management for NYC DEP the Nations largest Water & Sewer Authority . Designed, Created and Administered Nation's First Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP)for High Risk Tunneling Education Masters NYU Graduate School of Public Administration BSC New School For Social Research Maine Public Schools Deering High School
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