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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, 2014. 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 due to the. extremely high levels of arsenic and cyanide.
When UNESCO released its report in April 2014 the tailings already exceeded design maximum and the 500,00+ cubic meters of water on top pushed to within 1.5 meters of the dam crest causing a threat to dam stability at the front face with 0.9 meters of water over a part of dam supposed to have no water.. In a year of inattention and incompetence by local government and the land owners, a coalition of 17 tribes, who took it over, the water level on top of the tailings had filled that 1.5 meter free board to within centimeters of the dam crest. This additional water at the front edge of the dam face further elevated both the risk and possible consequence of failure.the risk of failure.
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.
EXCESSIVE WATER LEVELS ON TOP OF TAILINGS A FACTOR IN CRISIS AT MT POLLEY AND GOLD RIDGE
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 owner.
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 crisis /1 and the decision to allow an unsafe rate of release of 540,000 cubic meters of untreated waters threatening collapse.
DENIAL AND INACCURATE ANALYSIS ABOUND IN CANADIAN & AUSTRALIAN MINING CIRCLES OVER NARRATIVE, CAUSE AND FUNDAMENTAL COURSE CORRECTION
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 , and unsafe sought 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 2011 competent persons report by Golder Associates on Gold Ridge prepared for Allied, St Barbara’s most recent predecessor, 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 the next 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 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 report, Allied sold to St Barbara 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 http://www.jubileeaustralia.org
News Updates Additional Links
December 12/31/2014 Cecilia Jemasmies coverage for Mining. com..no mention of historic fundamental processing and recovery rate problems; reporting only “no plans ” http://www.mining.com/no-plans-for-gold-ridge-mine-tailings-dam-risking-overflow-17637/
August 7, 2015 http://www.sibconline.com.sb/st-barbara-should-do-the-dewatering-concerned-man/ 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 http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/282395/australian-miner-rejects-gold-ridge-claims
Andrew Morton Story..Land Owners blame St Barbara seek delisting on AUX http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/8190-claim-of-40m-eco-disaster
St Barbara’s 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 http://www.fool.com.au/2015/09/04/5-asx-stocks-that-have-gained-more-than-300-in-the-past-year/
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 Canadian and an Australian investor. Negotiations with other investors fell apart in part over landowners expectations 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 http://www.csp2.org). 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.
December 2015 Gold Ridge Landowners announce joint venture with Chinese holding company AXF with experience only on mining bitcoin
April 2, 2016
Dewatering begins with water treatment and controlled release of 1 meter of level every 45 days.
April 7,2016 Downstream Guadalcanal Community alarmed at volumes of water flowing from the TSF concerned that what they observe is not the promised controlled release of treated waters.
(We are preparing and will shortly post a specific co present siutaion at the Gold Ridge including the partnership with AXFe will continue to post updates and related stories here even if we develop future separate posts)
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.