On January 27 the debris in the site of the former Fundao dam shifted causing a 10 minute slide of 1 million cubic meters of material out of the site and necessitating the evacuation of all workers. According to Paul Kiernan, WSJ, Samarco did not report the slide to authorities. The Extraordinary Commission on Dams of Minas Gerais who visited the site on Januray 29th have stated that there is imminent risk of further failure of material from the Fundao site.
This incident is also cited in the Civil Action against Samarco filed on 2/2/2016 by the Federal Prsoecutors Office in Linhares on behalf of fisherman who have suffered and are suffering economic loss of indeterminate future impact. I was unable to get a Bing Translation from this pdf but understand that all fishing had been suspended as is the annual custom during the spawning of certain important native species. During the time of suspension fisherman are compensated for agreeing not to fish. The original failure on 11/5/2015 occurred during this spawning period. It is not clear what impacts the failure had on the protected spawning species or how long I will be before fishing can resume. com . The public civil action against Samarco on behalf of fisherman cites the release on 1/27/2016 as 960,000 cubic meters. ( less that the 1 million threshold for classification as a “very Serious Failure” in the Bowker Chambers 2015 classification of severity.
Fish Killed By Samarco Dam Failure
“Members of the Special Commission on Dams MGSL (Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais) were to visit the Germano mine in Mariana, in the central region of the state, on Friday (29).( A estrutura pertencente à Samarco continua em pé, mas apresentou trincas após o rompimento de Fundão , em novembro do ano passado.) The structure belonging to Samarco is still standing, but showed cracks after the breakup of Fundão, in November last year. (Agora, os parlamentares querem verificar se o novo vazamento ocorrido na quarta-feira (27) no complexo das barragens não afetou o local.) Now, lawmakers want to make sure that the new leak occurred on Wednesday (27) in the complex of dams did not affect the site”(link to source in original language)
This is only the 36th recorded event in world history of a tailings dam release of 1 million cubic meters or more, the definition set in Bowker Chambers 2015 for “very serious failure”. That global study of trends in the severity of tailings dam failures 1910-2010 identified 29 authoritatively documented TSF ( Tailings Storage Facility) failures. Since then a 1937 previously un documented catastrophic failure in Mexico has come to light and we had authoritatively documented 5 new “very serious” failures from 1/1/2010 to 12/31/2015 (including the Samarco on November 5th, the largest ever recorded in world history).
The January 27th post failure release of and additional 1 million cubic meters from the site brings the count of events for the decade ending on the date of the “latest very serious failure” at Samarco’s mine to 10 as compared with 7 for the decade ending 12/31/2009 as reported in Bowker Chambers 2015.
Although there are several events in recorded history of multiple very serious failures at the same mine and a few repeated at same TSF with a time interval of a few years, this is the first recorded time in history 2nd major failure at the same TSF immediately following a first primary very significant release.
According to company statements following the 2nd “very serious failure” on Wedesday January 27th, there are 20 million cubic meters more at the obviously unsecured, usatble site of the former dam. There we no statements about steps being taken to prevent the release of more of this 20 million cubic meters of material remaining in the site of the former Fundao dam.
After the first release of the former dam on November 5th there was no evidence of any remaining structural component of the Fundao which was put on line c 2008-2010. ( see photo below). In statements after that failure Samrco eventually reported that structural assessment of the other two dams had been undertaken and that both were below the required 1.5 level. They made no mention of any stability assessment at the failed Fundao site where this second release occurred on January 27 or of any work planned there to assess or stabilize any material in the site. They did not describe or characterize the material at the site of the former Fundao.
Fundao Dam Former Site Immediately After Failure
In their December 2015 report updating site conditions, repair and relief work no mention at all is made of the Fundao site, only of the damaged Silenha dike and the damaged Santorem. That report details the “state of the art” surveillance system and use of drones to monitor stability and safety at the dam sites and makes no mention of the presence of 20 million cubic meters of material within the former site of the Fundao dam.
This recurrence points to an apparent gap in the overall statutory and regulatory structure presently applicable to stability and safety at the site . There is no police power to force an independent stability assessment and an independent expert opinion prioritizing actions to prevent further damages at a level 30 times greater in magnitude well above the minimum level for “catastrophic” potential impacts in the Bowker Chambers 2015 severity classification . The public continues to remain at the mercy of Samarco’s reassurances that priority in their decisions making post failure is to prevent further downstream damage.
The New Zealand parliament found itself in this same situation in 1996 when it became clear that the miner was not taking proper action to prevent a complete failure of the tailings dam at Golden Cross. The flaw in the dam was known at acquisition by the miner and a focus of community demands for its proper indepedendent inspection and repair. The miner, not very experienced and trying to build a global presence through acquisitions, had under estimated the cost and scope of work necessary to repair the known flaw. When the inevitable and expected landslide occurred without breaching the dam the parliament met to deliberate whether they had given themselves sufficient power to intervene and realized they had not. In that case fortunately the miners excessive debt and other financial woes came to the rescue of the public interest and court proceedings provided $53 million out of assets towards the damages at the dam. which was successfully repaired and closed without a rupture.
This gap exists in almost all mining statutes and could be cured through creation of independent expert panels funded by applicant miners and those licensed via the overall regulatory framework for mining, accountable to neither regulator nor miner, with clear accountability to investigate and direct action .
It is important to note that Samarco did have an Internal Tailings Review Panel ( membership and details unknown) which functioned as it should in red flagging emerging stability and safety issues and offering alternative. Where the ITRP adivce didn’t fit with Samarco’s greater commitment to maintain production costs at a certain level, the panel was ignored. This in essence is the testimony of Dr. Avila to police investigating a possible Environmental Crimes action against Samarco.
As that investigation progresses, there is still no way under existing law to compel independent assessment and action at Samarco’s expense of the actual security and stability of the former Fundao site and the damaged Dike and Santorem.
We will be updating this post to bring in links to the referenced Golden Cross parallel, to Samarco’s previous statements and to the confirmation of Samarco’s independent expert panel. Most of this is already provided in other posts on the Samarco at this site. Not all of our commentary and analysis is via this site. Most, in fact is in a running e-roundtable with a multi disciplinary global network of experts, press, other researchers and other pubic interest groups. It is from this “e roundtable” that we will bring in the links.
As always, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any corrections, clarifications or further information related to this post.
February 2 2016 Stonington Maine
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM, Environmental Risk Manager
Founder & Director Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest
We will add to and update this post with refernce