CONTACT: Lindsay Newland Bowker, Bowker Associates lindsaynewlandbowker@gmail.com

DATE Of Release: December 5, 2016


Today ICMM ( “The International Council on Mining & Metals”) issued its report on Tailings Management. Written by Golder Associates who played a major role in the PR for Mt Polley and Samarco, the report is on behalf of ICMM’s 23 members who are the largest miners in the world controlling more than 2/3 of all production globally.


It is really more a PR document attempting to assure investors and the public that its 23 large members have been following and continue to follow all best practice standards for tailings design and management.  There is nothing in it that recognizes the elevated levels of catastrophic tailings loss  globally not just as forecast but as evidenced in the record . There is nothing offered that addresses root causes or solutions.



This is pretty  much as expected from ICMM and from Golder who have become more a mega PR firm, a “fixer” for  big miners in the wake of big disasters. Golder’s is  very different voice  when its client is the  World Bank or the IFC.


This report  is  on a parr with the superficial   response and reassurance given by BC MOM in its directed re evaluation of all B.C Tailings Facilities.  What was actually directed and the information actually produced did nothing to actually assess the level of risk in BC MOM’s standing operating already permitted TSF’s



This report falsely states the historic record on TSF failures still quoting that tired old worn out 21 year old ICOLD stat that the  mining industry insists on as its meme : “2 significant failures occur per year”. Historically and in  the most recent decade the actual number is 3.4 per year.  In 2016, there are already 5 “significant events”.


The “2 per year” comes from including pre-1936 decades for which ICOLD//WISE reporting was sparse and anectdotal(far left of chart above). The actual long term “significant incidents” rate from 1936 is 3.3, continuing the last two decades at about the same level (3.4).  The real story is in the frequency of high severity events such as Mt. Polly and Samarco.  In the last two decades that rate is 180% above  the 80 year rate of 0.5/year at 0.9. For the coming decade, actuarial science puts the expected rate at 1.4 to 1.5 per year for failures with releases exceeding 1 million cubic meters. ( see trend lines, below)

 Many will be in the range of severity between Mt Polley (25 million)and Samarco.(40 to 60 million)


 If ICMM’s model is taken up as a standard for the legal frameworks of mining globally or as standards for responsible self governance we can expect these drastically elevating trends of catastrophic failures to rise even more steeply with ever greater non remediable consequence.


The ICMM/Golder “report”  gives a cursory and poorly informed examination of root causes of failure again based on ICOLD’s 21 year old report, selecting only 3 out of the total 18 catastrophic failures since 1996   ICMM/Golder systematically  avoid the many authoritative deeply informed reviews of cause of failure especially Blight et. al’s re- review Merriespruitt which summed up a better list of root causes of failure.


These roots of failure, as Golder and each of ICMM’s members knows include

  • a brain drain in the industry;
  • incompetence in understanding and applying available technology;
  • global shifts which have determinant long term adverse financial viability at the nation level
  • the proof that the “economics of scale” metric no longer works at the very low grade levels where head grades and discovery fgrades converge.
  • A dramatic and debilitating 23% loss in productivity industry wide between 2004 and 2013 according to McKinsey
  • That grade is now “king” and the mining industry has entered  an entirely new era where old assumptions, old industry standards and even the body of existing “best knowledge” no longer apply. Deloitte and many others naming this.

Writing before Mt Polley right after Anglo, one the “ICMM 23”  took a public hit from Chile  on tailings and other violations, Jack Caldwell foreshadowed and summarized some of these same elements at work within Anglo.

After it audited several mining projects at Anglo Sur’s El Soldado, located 132 kilometres from Santiago in the district of Nogales, the authority detected multiple irregularities, including failing to fully preserve and relocate vegetation, ineffective wetland conservation plans and water management, lack of environmental monitoring, and tailings in in unpermitted areas

Do they really have tailings in unpermitted areas?  How can so large a mining company make so egregious a mistake?

Recall that Mike Davies (now VP Environmental Things for Teck) said that mining companies cut cost to the point that failures occur and then they take another look at costs and maybe adjust cost cutting and staff layoff.  Maybe Anglo is at that point.

I know the past head of tailings for Anglo in South Africa quit because he was overworked: required to review at least one facility a week, including those worldwide.  You cannot even travel to most of the mines in a week, net alone review their tailings operations.

“Tonight at the party for next week’s Heap Leach Conference, we discussed this story.  One cynic told the story of McMillian Blodell in BC who decided it was cheaper to pay the fines than obey the laws.  His opinion is that maybe this is what is happening in Chile.  As he noted, $5 million is a hell of a lot less than $300 million or the cost of establishing wetlands and putting tailings in distant sites.

Jack Caldwell.September 23, 2013 I think Mining.com ( reprinted at Mining.com)

This is the basket of snakes the Golder concocted ICMM Tailings Management Report is trying to keep the lid on.

ICMM/Golder cite three main national systems of guidance as containing a complete and thorough reference on “best knowledge/ best practice” and specifiy that adoption of any of these systems as corporate policy on Tailings Management would satisfy the ICMM commitment: ANCOLD( Australian National System), MAC/CDA( Canadian National Systems) and SANS(South African National System.  They identify 6 additional provisions not explicit in these three framework standards that must additionally be incorporated in company policy to meet the ICMM commitment. The 6 provisions are essentially what constitutes BHP’s recently announced “reforms ” in tailings management.

The venerable Dirk Van Zyl , a member of the ICMM expert review panel noted that ICMM did not address the root causes of the Samarco failure nevertheless congratulated them on what they had addressed.

-size:medium;”>Dirk van Zyl, a member of the expert panel that was constituted for the review, said

: “I am delighted that as a result of the review, CEOs of the world’s 23 leading mining companies committed to a new ICMM framework on how to further enhance the safe management of tailings dams.

The review did not cover how or why the Samarco tailings dam failed, but takes lessons from the tragic event as well as from other tailing dam failures. It finds that a higher level of governance and assurance is key to confirming existing safety standards are implemented consistently.”

Coverage in main stream business and mining news has been sparse and  without enthusiasm, analysis or comment.


Golder / ICMM ignore the facts of this new era which began about 10 years ago even as they have intentionally orchestrated  their version of the new era at increased global risk  of failures by over producing to intentionally drive out smaller mines, intentionally cause them to fail.  ICMM and its membership have their own version of a new era governed by their membership, a few large miners who can better manipulate supply, demand and thereby better control price.  The outfall of that ICCM plan is dramatic and precipitous escalation of public risk and consequence in the intentionally squeezed mines which will be left to fail or spun off to speculative avaricious foreign investors who want a foothold for other business opportunities. ( somewhere I have the article by Cecelia Jasmine of Info Mine/mining.com actually quoting this from ICMM) 

Essentially in this intellectually thin document Golder ICMM cling to the old model  and try to minimize any expectations of needed changes and new directions in business fundamentals among their 23 dominant metals producing members. 


This clinging to worn out no longer valid old ways,old assumptions and old models is apparent in several notable quotes for which there is no excuse and no defense and which frame the cornerstone of the approach and decalarations


(1) They essentially say  that all that exists as best knowledge needs no expansion, addition, or fundamental change to stem the ever rising trend of catastrophic failures



“Existing published guidance and standards documentation fully embrace the knowledge required to prevent such failures. The shortcoming lies not in the state of knowledge, but rather in the efficacy with which that knowledge is applied. Therefore, efforts moving forward should focus on improved implementation and verification of controls, rather than restatement of them.


There are numerous clearly established trends which desperately need addressing to prevent catastropic loss and stem its ever rising trend of annual frequency and severity of loss: the increasing levels of fines in lower grades that preclude the use of alternatives of slurry deposition which the Mt Polley Dam Committee has declared to be “outmoded technology”, the proportion of major producers with older TSF’s at maximum  design capacity and height,  the increasing deviation between predicted and actual performance of processing and production measures and on financial feasibility,the work of Bernhrad Dold on how ARD emerges in tailings, the absence of adequate in house competence to oversee or even evaluate the competence of outside consultants, a severe shortage of competence industry wide.


2.  Ignoring the actual vastness of this leading edge and in some cases long  established  “best knowledge” more deeply mapping the circumstances and attributes which have manifested and will continue to manifest in  catastrophic failure ICCM Golder cite adherence to a few very vaguely developed standards and guidelines like ANCOLD, MAP/CDA and SANS as evidencing sustainable performance

A year ago an international coalition of responsible mining advocates wrote to ICMM urging their members to undertake reforms and formally adopt the guidance of the Mt Polley Dam Committee and a loss prevention risk management response to the alarming rise of catastrophic failures post 1995 mapped by Lindsay Bowker and Co-author David Chambers in July 2015.  .


Earthworks and the international coalition is still considering what response to make.to this ICMM “report” completely avoiding every issue raised by the International Coalition.



Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager

Bowker Associates

Science & Research In The Public Interest

15 Cove Meadow Rd.

Stonington, Maine 04681


207 367 5145





Additional background and links on ICMM’s Tailings Initiative and Policy

  1. Annoucement that this study would be undertaken.  Includes a list of all members and contact info at ICMM


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 2017 we partnered with Daveid M. Chambers, a world leader in responsible mining, in our third joint work on the economics of tailings failures. Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. In the Dark Shadow of the Supercycle Tailings Failure Risk & Public Liability Reach All Time Highs. Environments 2017, 4, 75. http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3298/4/4/75 A peer reviewed journal published investigation of the cowboy economics of the supercycle and the resulting escalation on the number and magnitude of catastrophic failures. In 2016 we parnered with Dave Chambers in our 2nd joint work together looking at root causes of failures at a conference . Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. Root Causes of Tailings Management Failures: The Severity of Consequence of Failures Attributed to Overtopping 1915–2015. In Proceedings of the Protections 2016, Fort Collins, CO, USA, 14 June 2016. [Google Scholar] In 2015 Bowker Associates collaborated with 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 global mining economics 1910-2010 ( Risk, Economics and Public Liability of TSF Failures, Bowker/Chambers July 2015) The third annual update of this globally referenced and used compilation was just released at Researchgate. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324594429_World_Tailings_Dam_Failures_From_1915_-_as_of_Mar_31_2018) 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://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/a-new-statutory-regulatory-framework-for-responble-sulfide-mining-should-this-mine-be-built/ 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 https://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/mountain-x-would-you-issue-a-permit-to-this-mine/ 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
This entry was posted in ANCOLD, AngloAmerican, Dirk Van Zyl, Golder Associates, ICCM Tailings Management Report, Jack Caldwell, MAC/CDA Tailings Guidelines, Mike Davies, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Totally Agree with your points about poor execution to design, poor competence/capabilities, poor assurance of key controls effectiveness. See my paper – written independently from Western Australia. https://papers.acg.uwa.edu.au/p/1905_03_Atkins/
    Please connect.
    Alex Atkins +61 (0) 417 469 582 alex.atkins3268@icloud.com https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexatkins/

    • Thank you for making me aware of your electrifying fructifying paper. Just stellar!!! As you know I have widely shared already and with your permission would like to post the email I sent around here at WordPress where there is perhaps a more diverse global audience than conference procedings. I am also putting Margaret Armostrong in touch with you. She is principle author on the recent paper looking at how compensation structures deter “due diligence” that might affect production volumes and schedules. I also shared your paper via my email with the ESG community, Church of England Pension Funds, CERES, UBS and other leading investors in the minerals sector. Lindsay Newland Bowker, Executive Director, World Mine Tailings Failures.org, http://www.worldminetailingsfailures.org ,compiler@worldminetailingsfailures.org

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