Brazilian miners to tighten up tailings self-regulations

Reconstruction efforts at Samarco’s Fundão tailings dam in 2017. (Image courtesy of BHP)

Brazilian mining regulator ANM announced that it will hold a public hearing on new guidelines to tighten safety rules and inspection of mining dams.

The agency said suggestions obtained during the process, expected to last 45 days, will be used to outline the new standards.

Scrutiny around tailing dams safety has dramatically increased in the past two years, following Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) Brumadinho dam collapse that killed 270 people. It also triggered a global inquiry into the status of 726 tailing dams.

A similar accident in 2015 affected an iron ore mine operated by Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and Vale. The Fundão tailings dam burst became the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history,

Upstream dams were banned in February 2019 and companies were given deadlines to decommission dozens of similar structures in the country. At first, the NMA set until 2021 for companies to dissemble the dams.

In August 2019, the regulatory agency extended the deadline by almost six years, to 2022, 2025 and 2027, depending on the size of the structure.

Vale, the world’s largest iron ore producer, is still facing legal action over the deadly accident, including allegations that the miner was aware of the dam’s unstable condition years before the accident happened.

Global efforts

Following the accident, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), a London-based industry group representing 27 major mining companies, formed an independent panel of experts to develop global standards for tailings facilities.

The Church of England, which invests in mining companies through its pensions for retired clergy, along with its partners, launched a global inquiry in April 2019 into the mining waste storage systems of more than 700 resources companies.

It now asks companies to disclose data on tailings dams on a regular basis.

Switzerland-based Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF) published a study in early April this year, showing that investor-led action had resulted in improved transparency regarding the state of such facilities.

The vast majority of miners, however, have yet to demonstrate they are reviewing how they effectively manage tailings-related risks.

17 0