NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF ADVOCACY OR MINERAL RESOURCE GOVERNANCE HAS THERE BEEN MORE FACTUAL DATA AVAILABLE AND LESS DONE WITH IT to effect community of origin security and secure damage compensation for long past,long avoided and continuing failure damages to people, to lands and waters essential for life.
My short tenure researching cause of tailings failures ( 7 years) has drawn on and comes from profound respect for the work of the folk who have really done the most and best of the work that can prevent loss: Robert Moran, Steve Vick, Mike Davies, Norbert Morgenstern, Geoffrey Blight, Dirk Van Zyl, Todd Martin, Scott Olson, Abouzar Sadrekarini, Kevin Morin, Gavin Mudd, Stephen Northey, David Humphreys , Jack Caldwell, Andy MacG Robertson, NRCAN’s Bill Price,YT John Kwong,Bernhard Dold,Karen Hudson-Edwards, Kim Lapakko.
These are the heroes who have given us the best knowledge and guidance on risk assessment and loss prevention, on consequence of failure and possible recovery, on the elevated consequence of recovery delayed. I have never seen a technical report, EIS or other government required document citing any of this foundational work even though the MEND program in Canada showed us how to solicit best science and put it work in Governance. With too few exceptions, like Robert Moran’s Pebble Science, it is rare to see an advocacy group trying to apply these foundational works to the issues posing community threats or even using it when already available on a specific community campaign.
I believe in the power of many voices and there is no question that only advocacy has taken up the work of documenting consequence. Government avoids that when handing out permits or overseeing community of security conditions at already licensed operations. Historically it is only through advocacy pointing to policy gaps in the form of documentation on severe public consequence we have evolved what fragments of law we have aimed at loss prevention.
It is in the calls for action arising from advocacy that things go off the tracks. The idea that a mere list of tailings facilities would help with loss prevention and that UNEP was the right global developer and caretaker for such a list was a joint call for action by some of the world’s biggest and best “responsible Mining” advocates including Mining Watch Canada, long a gold standard for solid, factual issue mapping on community of origin risk and consequence, London Mining Network, Earthworks Action, Jubilee Australia and Greenpeace. ( Safety is No Accident)
None of the standard tailings descriptors in what few government tailings disclosures exist ( Spain, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Army Corps of Engineers and a few others ) contain any data relevant for hazard potential assessment or actual risk of failure assessment. The commonly used descriptors which are the basis of the COE Tailings disclosures emerged from the UNEP/ICOLD bulletin 121. As Steve Vick explained these descriptors arose mainly from ICOLD’s desire to have a common descriptive data set for all large dams, both TSF’s and water dams. That in itself was a bad decision as water dams and tailings dams have nothing in common.
As a result of my guidance at several investor presentations including the COE Tailings Initiative planning sessions, several extremely useful data elements were included in the COE survey: hazard potential class, age of structure, planned depositions next five years, date of last stability analysis. Advocacy didn’t call for any expansion over the basic Bulletin 121 elements or the inclusion of any known indicators of risk even though there many basic well established ones like the host geology of principal ore mined which YT John Kwong long ago mapped in a scale of risk to local community. Like the entire body of work from MEND and from the Mine Drainage Assessment Group. Like all the tailings specific work by Davies, Todd, Morgenstern, Blight, Van Zyl and so many others mapping the relationship between tailings characeristics, climate, geography and designing for TSF safety.
Unfortunately ICMM, a cartel and lobbying entity for the world’s largest miners disemboweled the stability question on the COE tailings disclosure survey advising all its members to include any recent technical report or inspection ( according to the disclosure notes of an ICMM member).
The result is the tailings survey was a very small response relative to the world’s 21,000 existing active and inactive facilities with a jumble of inconsistent and duplicative interpretations to which Compiler in Chief, Elaine Baker has been applying good principles and good science to sort out and present at a portal developed by Grid Arendal. The grand debut of the Portal is scheduled sometime this month.
World Mine Tailings Failures was given access to all the original surveys after a first pass through by Elaine Baker’s team and, since October,we have done our own further editing which reduced the valid unique usable records down to a count representing less than 10% of the world mine tailings portfolio. By comparison with other disclosures, Brazil’s, the ACOE, a 2015 world survey of tailings facilities put together by Paulina Larrauri at the Columbia Water Center, World mine tailings Failures has determined that the COE data set is not representative of the characteristics of the word tailings portfolio and specifically excludes most of the world’s presently at risk facilities which were already dumped over the past decade to less well financed, less experienced miners. Pinto Valley is a disheartening and worrying example.
Moreover what Grid Arendal has presented at their very sexy glitzy glossy portal is not correct. For example the stat that 10% have had stability issues is very misleading without knowing which facilities actually had a proper stability analysis. Our impression based on in depth analysis of case histories is that few facilities represented as stable actually have had such an analysis. The data presented on age of facilities gives the misleading impression that depositions are going to new well designed facilities. A cleaner better informed analysis of the COE data itself shows this is not correct. The majority of planned deposits are to very old high hazrd facilities which likely have not had a proper stability assessment.
The Grid Arendal case histories of major failures are superficial, incomplete, inaccurate and fail to mention even what was authoritatively documented as cause of failure.
We have shared all our analysis from the beginning with Elaine Baker, the UNEP director, the COE Tailings Action partners, the Global tailings review team. We see no corrections. We expect more of the same and we are dreading all the hype we expect will attend the official debut of the portal and data. World Mine Tailings Failures analysis was supported in part with very small donations from , the London Mining Network and Mining Watch Canada . We are still working on our State of World Mine Tailings 2020 report at WMTF but we have issued many reports of our findings concerning the representativeness of the COE disclosure data and what could reliably be mapped as risk in the world portfolio of 21,000 existing facilities world wide.
The COE disclosure data set has nothing to do with actual risk.
UNEP is not the right compiler or guardian. They don’t have the depth in world mineral supply to do that and most importantly the logical primary compiler of the data should be the governments issuing the permits and allowing continued operations. There is a role for a global compiler and World mine Tailings Failures is moving towards that via a compilation of all existing government disclosures. WMTF has the technical depth though not at present the funding and staff to do those global compilations properly and use them correctly in risk assessment and failure predictions.
What the coalition of advocates called for was a mistake. We are almost two years past Brumadinho and a lot of attention and energy has gone towards this enterprise which has not and will not improve community of origin security or bring long overdue relief and compensation to thousands whose tailings failure damages have been ignored.
It is worrying and disappointing that world wide advocacy has not done more for damaged and at risk communities of origin with the wealth of data that has come forward . I see a trend of ignoring what points to facts and solutions that could help at risk and already impaired communities of origin.
For example, the joint London Mining Network and Jubilee Australia action on Panguna. No question some of the worst mining atrocities and severe community damages ever and these are two organizations who have in the past done outstanding work. However, in a recent major report on Panguna, they chose to pin the Panguna atrocities on Rio instead of on the PNG government soldiers who murdered protesting Bougainvillians in their own villages (not even while protesting at the mine site). The government hunted the leaders of protest down in their own villages and murdered them. When I challenged their blaming Rio they said , in essence “yeah but blaming the miner brings more public support”. They didn’t change or alter their strategy or their report.
Our call for years has been to get off the “evil miner”, “all miners are evil” trolley and on to “Government owes more to its people”.
Several US groups of some good repute, or at least excellent cause, launched a completely bogus lawsuit vilifying Scott Olson and making truly absurd claims comparing Polymet to Brumadinho. Scott Olson is the creator of the most used tool for prospectively evaluating stability life of facility for a proposed TSF. Advocacy should have been grasping what that is and insisting it be used for the few projects where a new TSF is actually proposed. They had an authoritative opinion by Dirk Van Zyl flagging actual flaws with the stability assumptions of the Polymet tailings plan but instead of understanding that and holding that up they went with their united totally bogus “Polymet is making the same mistakes as Brumadinho because both used Scott Olson”. What an unforgivable waste of donations made in good faith.
Every time there is an opportunity for comment or a new mining event of concern, the pattern is that advocates drag out and re assert their wrong advocacy of a ban on all new upstream dams (which would do zero to reduce risk as its the wrong use of exiting upstream dams that is the problem ) and demands cash up front to pre fund failures.
I have been sharing the real story on Brumadinho since days after the failure but advocates seem to prefer the version wrongly advanced by Reuters/Wall St Journal that Vale withheld information that could have prevented failure. They don’t really seem to want to understand how failure forms, how to actually measure risk, how to prevent loss. They seem to be in love with the evil miner meme and its proven record in rallying the masses, their donations, their signatures on petitions.
The truth of community risk and community security isn’t very sexy. It doesn’t motivate the masses as readily as naming miners as all cheats and villains.
They seem jointly determined to take silly positions and stick to them. To take bows on things don’t help communities at risk or those that have already suffered.
To celebrate the Grid Arednal Portal is to divert all attention away from meaningful loss prevention and I hope these venerable reputable advocacies world wide don’t go that route. I hope they abandon their evil miner approach for a tougher look at, and clearer community of origin demands for fundamental chnages in government resource management.
Lindsay Newland Bowker
June 13,2020 revised June 17,2020