Archive | Mining Environmental Accidents, Pollution, Tailing Dams and Abandoned Mines

Pollution insurance costs to jump for U.S. tailings dams after Vale disaster – by Suzanne Barlyn (Reuters U.S. – January 21, 2020)

https://www.reuters.com/

The 2019 mining disaster in Brazil is expected to lead to a double-digit jump in costs to insure U.S. tailings dams that store mining waste against liability for environmental catastrophes.

Tailings dams, some of which tower dozens of meters high and stretch for several kilometers (miles), are the most common waste-disposal method for mining companies, whether they extract iron ore, gold or copper.

The deadly collapse last January of the dam at Vale SA’s Corrego do Feijao iron ore mine in Brumadinho rocked the mining industry and spurred calls for massive operational changes. At least 259 people were killed here in the incident. Continue Reading →

Vale’s biggest problem won’t be easy to fix – by Vinícius Andrade and Sabrina Valle (Australian Financial Review/Bloomberg – Janaury 17, 2020)

https://www.afr.com/

São Paulo | In the weeks and months after Vale’s deadly dam disaster, some of Brazil’s biggest investors snatched up shares in a bet they’d bounce back and then keep rising.

A year later, the gamble paid off, but with a caveat: The stock rebounded, but Vale’s reputation hasn’t — and that’s the problem. Vale still trades at a discount of at least 20pc to peers BHP and Rio Tinto, based on enterprise-value-to-expected-Ebitda ratio.

While the world’s largest iron ore producer, like all miners, has struggled with plenty of environmental issues in the past, there’s no denying that a company’s green credentials suddenly matter now more than ever. Continue Reading →

South Africa has the world’s highest number of environmentally dangerous tailing dams – by Tawanda Karombo (Quartz Africa – January 16, 2020)

https://qz.com/

South Africa has the highest number of dangerous tailing dams—structures constructed, often by mining companies, to store waste in liquid form. The dams are considered hazardous if improperly handled and have resulted in environmental disasters and deaths many times around the world.

Wider environmental hazards arising out of mining operations in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa, range from river contamination from chemicals used in mining processes to improper rehabilitation of mined out operations.

Tailing dams have emerged as the latest significant environmental risk factor from mining and South Africa has the highest number of the riskiest of these, according to an investigative report by Reuters. Continue Reading →

Court sides with environmental groups in ongoing De Beers lawsuit – by Elena De Luigi (Timmins Press – January 13, 2020)

https://www.timminspress.com/

“There needs to be accountability. We need our regulators to step up and do their job.”

The courts have ruled in favour of an environmental group that accused De Beers Canada of allegedly failing to report mercury monitoring data collected at the Victor Diamond Mine to the provincial regulator. The Victor Diamond Mine is located on wetlands along the Attawapiskat River near Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay Coast.

Timmins provincial court Justice David A. Thomas granted the appeal made by Trevor Hesselink, the director of Wildlands League, the non-profit organization that accused De Beers in 2015 of breaching a section of the Ontario Water Resources Act on an ongoing basis between June 2009 and July 2016.

Hesselink alleged DeBeers failed to self-monitor and report on the mine’s “effluent discharge,” specifically the levels of mercury and methyl mercury seeping into the Attawapiskat River. Continue Reading →

Group wants Long Lake plan to move forward – by Jim Moodie (Sudbury Star – January 10, 2020)

https://www.thesudburystar.com/

Despite concerns raised by some residents, most people living on Long Lake support a new plan to tackle contamination from an old gold mine, according to the head of a stewardship group.

“You can’t satisfy everybody 100 per cent of the time,” said Scott Darling, chair of the Long Lake Stewardship Committee. “But our position is this is the best plan we have seen in close to 10 years for getting the problem solved, and the problem is the arsenic in the lake.”

A cleanup and tailings-containment strategy put forward in 2017 by the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines was met with more resistance, he said, as it would have resulted in a high volume of truck traffic on area roads. The ministry went back to the drawing board, however, considering four alternatives to the original plan. Continue Reading →

Exclusive: Brazil prosecutor aims to charge Vale within days over mining waste dam disaster – by Marta Nogueira and Christian Plumb (Reuters U.S. – January 8, 2020)

https://www.reuters.com/

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (Reuters) – A Brazilian state prosecutor expects to bring criminal charges “in the next few days” against miner Vale (VALE3.SA) over a mining waste dam collapse that killed at least 259 people, even as the prosecutor’s federal counterpart continues to investigate the case.

Andressa de Oliveira Lanchotti, coordinator for the task force of state prosecutors investigating the disaster, told Reuters they expect to indict 15 to 20 people, including executives from Vale and employees from German inspection firm TÜV SÜD – as well as the companies themselves.

“What we can take away from the investigations is there were several factors pointing to risk – the risk was not unknown,” Lanchotti said, disputing Vale’s contention that it had no way of knowing that the dam that unleashed an avalanche of mining waste on the Brazilian town of Brumadinho in January 2019 posed a danger. Continue Reading →

Accent: Sudbury’s impact on Lake Huron (hint — it’s major) – by Joe Shorthouse (Sudbury Star – December 21, 2019)

https://www.thesudburystar.com/

Sudbury is part of the Great Lakes Ecosystem. Water in toilets flushed in Sudbury, along with waters from mine tailings, flows into Lake Huron and pass under the swing bridge on Manitoulin Island

The new partnership of residents who live year-round on the islands in the Great Lakes, called the Great Lakes Islands Alliance (GLIA), held its third annual Summit on Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan in October.

As with previous gatherings, participants reminded themselves that the Great Lakes hold about 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water and living on islands comes with the responsibility of protecting the integrity of this critical resource.

Participants have come to visualize the five Great Lakes as gently sloping eastward from the west coast of Lake Superior to the east coast of Lake Ontario, and as a result, Great Lakes waters eventually flow into the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean. Continue Reading →

THE LOOMING RISK OF TAILINGS DAMS – by Moira Warburton, Sam Hart, Júlia Ledur, Ernest Scheyder and Ally J. Levine (Reuters U.S. – December 19, 2019)

https://graphics.reuters.com/

More than 240 people died this past January in Brazil when a Vale-owned tailings dam collapsed, unleashing a torrent of mud and mining waste on the countryside and the small town of Villa Ferteco, a kilometer (0.62 miles) away.

The Church of England invests in mining companies through its pensions for retired clergy. In the wake of the Vale tragedy, the Church and other funds with investments valued at about $14 trillion requested information from mining companies on their tailings dams, which are embankments constructed near mines to store mining waste in a liquid or solid form. The data from the companies has not been independently verified.

The investor review, which found at least 166 dams have had stability issues in the past, relied on companies’ disclosures about their dams holding tailings. Most Chinese and Indian miners did not provide information, leaving a significant hole in efforts to create a global picture of safety risks posed by these dams and avoid another disaster. Continue Reading →

China tightens rules on tailings dam safety – by Min Zhang and Tom Daly (Reuters U.S. – December 19, 2019)

https://www.reuters.com/

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has tightened rules covering the safety management of tailings dams, including banning them in some areas, authorities said on Thursday, as the country aims to prevent risks after a fatal disaster in Brazil in January.

Downstream areas with a high density of people – such as residential neighborhoods, industrial premises or markets – or with production and living facilities within one kilometer, will be off limits for new, rebuilt or expanded tailing dams, the Ministry of Emergency Management said in a statement on its website.

Tailings dams are the most common waste disposal methods for mining firms, whether they are extracting iron ore, copper or gold. They can tower dozens of meters high and stretch for several kilometers. Continue Reading →

How the race for cobalt risks turning it from miracle metal to deadly chemical – by Jonathan Watts (The Guardian – December 18, 2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/

If the prophets of technology are to be believed, the best hope for solving the climate crisis is ever more efficient batteries. But the race to produce enough materials for this energy-storage revolution is creating a host of other environmental problems, as cobalt-producing nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Cuba are discovering.

Lung disease and heart failure have been linked to high levels of this element, while the mines that produce it are blamed for devastated landscapes, water pollution, contaminated crops and a loss of soil fertility. Scientists are also investigating a possible link to cancer.

As with any chemical, the risks depend on the amount and duration of exposure. Cobalt is a metal that occurs naturally in rocks, water, plants, and animals. It is less toxic than many other metals. At low levels, it is beneficial to human health and is a component of vitamin B12. Continue Reading →

Rio Tinto’s plan to clean up Ranger uranium mine in doubt after hedge fund objects – by Ben Butler and Ben Smee (The Guardian – December 17, 2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/

Mining giant Rio Tinto’s plans to clean up the controversial Ranger uranium mine have been thrown into doubt after objections from a Singapore-based hedge fund.

The mine is owned by ASX-listed Energy Resources Australia (ERA), which in turn is 68% owned by Rio Tinto. ERA is required to remediate the mine site and return it to a state fit to be incorporated in the surrounding Kakadu national park, by 2026.

There have been longstanding concerns about the risk of a uranium leak from the Ranger mine, amplified by its location at the eastern end of the remote national park in the Northern Territory. Continue Reading →

Deforestation, erosion exacerbate mercury spikes near Peruvian gold mining (Duke University – December 12, 2019)

https://www.sciencedaily.com/

Scientists from Duke University have developed a model that can predict the amount of mercury being released into a local ecosystem by deforestation and small-scale gold mining.

The research, which appears online on December 11 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, could point toward ways to mitigate the worst effects of mercury poisoning in regions such as those that are already experiencing elevated mercury levels caused by gold mining.

“We’ve taken a lot of ground measurements in the Peruvian Amazon of mercury levels in the water, soil and fish,” said Heileen Hsu-Kim, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University. “But many areas in the Amazon aren’t easily accessible, and the government often does not have the resources needed to test local sites.” Continue Reading →

Vale report blames water level for Brazil mining waste dam disaster – by Christian Plumb and Luciano Costa (Reuters U.K. – December 12, 2019)

https://uk.reuters.com/

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – The deadly collapse of a Vale SA’s mining waste dam in Brazil was partially triggered by “a persistently high water level” that caused the structure to lose strength and stability, according to a report by a panel of experts appointed by the company’s lawyers.

The report, released by Vale on Thursday, said there was no warning the dam was unstable, and no seismic activity or explosions in the area were recorded before it burst in late January. The dam collapse unleashed an avalanche of mining waste on the Brazilian town of Brumadinho, killing at least 155 people.

The report examined technical factors leading to the disaster rather than issues of liability. It came less than four years after another dam collapse at a joint venture between Vale and BHP Group in the same region, an accident that experts also blamed on water weakening the solid materials composing the dam so that they behave more like a liquid – a phenomenon known as liquefaction. Continue Reading →

New mining waste dam rules should not be retroactive, says review chief (Reuters U.S. – December 6, 2019)

https://www.reuters.com/

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – New global standards for mining waste dams should take into account the difficulties of making existing dams compliant, the chair of an independent panel of experts crafting the new rules said on Friday.

Industry groups object to a standard that would apply not only to the design of new dams, but also require existing dams to be modified – a retro-fitting process they claim may be technically impossible, and at the very least expensive and time-consuming.

The world’s largest mining trade group – the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) – voiced concerns last month about the draft standards, especially how the rules could apply equally to new and existing facilities. Continue Reading →

Ecuador to tighten rules for mining waste dams to avoid repeat of Brazil disaster – by Alexandra Valencia (Reuters U.S. – November 26, 2019)

https://www.reuters.com/

QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s government plans to tighten rules regulating the construction and operation of mining waste dams to avoid disasters like one in Brazil in January when a dam owned by Vale SA collapsed, killing hundreds.

Vice Minister of Mining Fernando Benalcazar told Reuters the new rules will take effect in December and will prohibit the building of so-called tailings dams close to populated areas and ban certain designs that are considered less stable.

Public trust in the mining industry has plunged since the disaster in Brazil, spurring calls to bolster safety at tailings dams, which are used to store the muddy detritus of the mining process and can be dozens of meters high. Continue Reading →