Since the early 1900s the geotechnical community has investigated every significant failure of a tailings dam, improved our knowledge of the behaviour of the tailings storage facilities, developed analysis methods, compiled lessons learned, and committed to zero failures. The rate of occurrence of tailings dam failures has reduced since the 1980s, however, failures continue to occur and continue to surprise us.
At BHP, we have decided to take an approach to the tailings management that is similar to the approach to safety. We are looking at ways to eliminate, substitute, separate or engineer around the hazard (tailings dam failure). As such, our ultimate long term goal would be to eliminate the need for new tailings facilities. Unfortunately, we have not developed yet technologies for extracting many of the common metals and minerals without producing tailings.
Our shorter term goal is to substitute the current conventional slurry tailings facilities with less risky dryer facilities. We are working with vendors and research organizations to develop technologies that can be efficiently applied on a large scale.
At the same time, we are committed to using the best available engineering to reduce the risks associated with our existing and new conventional tailings facilities. The best engineering can be achieved by people with the appropriate education, experience, attention to detail, discipline and authority. We have implemented a system of governance to make sure, we have the best engineering applied to all our facilities, considering the specific conditions at each site.
This paper presents the current tailings governance process at BHP, and the initiatives that were undertook towards achieving a zero failure goal.
Alexieva, T, 2018. Tailings governance, in Proceedings Mine Waste and Tailings Stewardship Conference 2018, pp 2–7 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).