The Mining Industry’s Waste Problem Will Only Get Worse – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – February 19, 2019)

To avoid another disaster like Vale’s, companies need to invest in better disposal methods. That’s going to get harder in the coming decades.

It’s taken two tragedies in just over three years, but the mining industry is finally starting to clean up its act. Brazil’s government Monday announced plans to ban upstream tailings dams, a low-cost method of storing mining waste implicated in last month’s Brumadinho disaster and the similar Samarco collapse in 2015.

Something of the sort was already on the cards: State-controlled Vale SA, operator or joint-operator of both facilities, is already decommissioning all of its dams that use the technology. Chile, where earthquakes pose a particular threat to the stability of tailings ponds, banned upstream dams in 1970.

The move may be the bare minimum for the industry to protect itself. By their very nature, mining companies turn public mineral resources into private profits. When they’re seen to be dumping too much of the intervening costs back on the public (whether through pollution, disasters or inadequate cleanup) they risk being regulated out of existence.

The Philippines, with one of the richest mineral endowments in the world, remains more or less off-limits to global miners after a series of tailings dam failures in the 1980s and 1990s prompted a popular backlash.

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