Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident

Require detailed and ongoing evaluations of potential failure modes, residual risks and perpetual management costs of tailings storage facilities. Enforce mandatory financial securities for life of the mine (includes post-closure). Ban or commit to not use riverine tailings disposal. Adopt a presumption against the use of submarine tailings disposal, water covers on tailings dams and the use of upstream and cascading tailings dams unless justified by independent review. Under an international agreement, authorities would be encouraged to adopt regulations to ensure failure prevention. Such a system would provide certainty and inspire industry confidence in the regulatory system, supporting companies who want to innovate and adopt best practice and new technologies. It could also reward transparency and best practices in assessing projects against proponents’ established reputation and against practices around the world. While approaches will vary between jurisdictions, and in acknowledging and leaving the specificity of technical matters to regulatory authorities, action two identifies a number of core elements that should apply across the board. Of these actions, the role that financial tools and instruments play is perhaps the least well known in the wider community. The problems created by the failure to recognize future costs and the future discounting of externalized impacts and risks can be partially overcome by dual discounting for future social and environmental liabilities and by a separate assessment of project value. Rather than being limited to investor returns, this would consider social financial returns, non-financial values, other potential land uses and perpetual management costs. Such an assessment would be independent of the proponent and would enable a decision to be made on whether the project would produce an adequate return for the risks and impacts to the environment, local communities, governments and future generations. j) k) l)

Agreement on which practices are inherently unsafe would provide greater certainty to all stakeholders. Increased transparency and responsibility are also vital, with independently reviewed and frequently updated risk assessments and disaster management plans made in conjunction with and available to local stakeholders. In addition to greater financial securities, director liability of operator and parent companies would encourage more active management of and responsibility for risk. Balancing this, regulators should encourage best practice and incentivize better tailings management, reuse and recycling, and the re-mining of older mine sites or waste streams. Lastly, effective regulation relies on well-resourced regulatory authorities, which are able to attract and retain expert personnel in policy formation, monitoring and enforcement. This challenge, which could be examined by the knowledge hub, must be overcome if industry, regulators and other stakeholders are to have access to the expert advice and services they require. Action 3. Crisis response Establish a global financial assurance system for mine sites to ensure rehabilitation, tailings management and monitoring. Fund a global insurance pool to address any unmet liabilities from major tailings dam failures on local communities. Tailings dam failures create crises for a number of stakeholders, who are often unprotected and lack the resources or capacity to move on from or overcome the impact of a disaster. A financial assurance system would provide resources to address the impacts of failure with adequate funds for site clean-up and remediation. While an insurance pool would provide compensation for affected stakeholders, particularly local and downstream communities and incentivize the industry to reduce the number of failures. m) n)


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