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Tailings and Mine Waste Management

Management approach and performance related to waste management, including the construction, operation and ongoing monitoring of the various health, safety and environmental risks and impacts associated with tailings storage facilities (TSFs) and waste rock facilities. 

GRI Indicators
306-103, 306-2, G4-MM3

Why was Tailings and Waste Management a Material Topic in 2016?

As the global population grows and demand for products and services increases, wastes and by-products from consumer and business activities increase in tandem. Both hazardous and non-hazardous wastes have the potential to significantly impact the environment and human health. To mitigate impacts, proper waste and material management is critical to ensuring that human health and the environment are protected. Responsible corporations are taking greater ownership of their role in managing waste across the life cycle of their products. 

Tailings and mine waste rock are common by-products of mining practice — and, increasingly, mining of lower grade deposits is generating greater volumes of these materials per unit of commodity produced. As such, responsible management of tailings and waste rock is increasingly critical for the mining industry. 

Tailings facilities are typically well managed with very few incidents; however, a tailings incident has the potential to make a significant impact. Over the past few years, there have been several tailings incidents in the mining industry that illustrate the nature of those impacts. As such, many industry associations reviewed standards in relation to tailings in 2016. For example, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), submitted its review of tailings management requirements and guidance under MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative.

Teck operates seven mines with active tailings storage facilities(1). Tailings storage facilities at all our operations meet or exceed regulatory requirements, and we are continually improving the management of our facilities by developing and incorporating best practice. 

In 2016, Teck played an active role in promoting best practices for tailings facility management, both in our own operations and across the mining industry, through participation in the review of tailings management by MAC and ICMM. In addition, we reviewed the Samarco and Mount Polley investigation reports to determine any gaps in our own practices. During the year, performance of our tailings storage facilities was as intended and no significant incidents occurred. Coming out of the MAC and ICMM reviews and new policy guidance, the main focus during the year was to ensure a consistent and appropriate level of internal and independent external review for our facilities.   

(1) For purposes of reporting, “active tailings storage facilities” denotes a constructed impoundment involving one or more tailings dams in which tailings are currently being deposited. The seven operations with active TSFs include Carmen de Andacollo, Elkview, Fording River, Greenhills, Highland Valley Copper, Pend Oreille and Red Dog.

Performance Highlights

8

Independent tailings review boards in place for all major active tailings facilities (Carmen de Andacollo, Elkview, Fording River, Greenhills, Highland Valley Copper, and Red Dog) and major development projects with large tailings facilities in Chile (Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 and NuevaUnión).

Our Targets and Commitments

We continually review our facilities and procedures, and are committed to maintaining the highest standard of safety and environmental protection at our operations, including standards set by MAC and ICMM.

 

How Does Teck Manage Tailings and Mine Waste?

Mining generates mineral waste materials consisting of tailings and fine coal refuse, coarse coal refuse and waste rock, as well as much smaller amounts of non-mineral wastes, including hazardous and non-hazardous materials. 

Teck’s Health, Safety, Environment and Community Management Standards include general guidance on tailings and mine waste management. In addition to those standards, we also have specific guidance on tailings management and governance activities so that our roles and responsibilities are well-defined and understood for all of our facilities. These management standards, the associated guidance documents, and our adherence to them, are overseen by the Safety and Sustainability Committee of the Board of Directors.

Responsible tailings and waste management practices are a critical part of environmental management and operational integrity at Teck. 

Table 46: Mining Waste Categories

Tailings and Fine Coal Refuse

Tailings and fine coal refuse are the finer fractions of the processed material that have no economically recoverable mineral or coal content. Tailings and fine coal refuse are typically stored in tailings storage facilities (TSFs).

Coarse Coal Refuse

Coarse coal refuse (CCR) is a coarse fraction of raw coal that is separated during processing; it is not currently an economic product. CCR is placed in designated engineered facilities or, if determined to not be susceptible to leaching, may be used as a construction material, including for creating dams to store fine coal refuse.

Waste Rock and Overburden

The rock that is removed to access ores and coal, which typically contains trace amounts of naturally occurring metals and other constituents, is commonly called waste rock. Waste rock must be properly managed to ensure geotechnically and geochemically sound storage to create stable landscapes and to minimize the effects of water runoff on local waterbodies.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous wastes produced at our operations include such items as waste oil, solvents, antifreeze, paint, batteries and fluorescent tubes. This waste is recycled or transported off-site by licensed contractors to appropriately designated and regulated facilities.

Non-hazardous Waste

Non-hazardous waste (e.g., scrap metal, wood waste, glass, tires, cardboard and paper) is recycled whenever possible.

We are committed to the safe and environmentally responsible development, operation and management of tailings storage facilities. Planning, design, construction, operation, decommissioning and closure are carried out in a manner such that:

  • Structures are stable

  • Solids and water are managed within designated areas

  • Facilities comply with regulatory requirements

  • Facilities conform to applicable standards, internal policies, industry best practices and the technical guidelines of the jurisdictions in which we operate  

The effective planning, design, construction, monitoring and maintenance of our tailings facilities are built on good corporate governance, technology, systems and procedures, inspections and reviews, community of interest (COI) engagement, and reporting. We have multiple layers of system protection, as identified in our internal policies and guidelines.

We have comprehensive systems and procedures in place for the safe operation and monitoring of tailings facilities that follow best practices, organized around six levels of protection:

  • Surveillance Technology: Our sites employ various systems such as GPS hubs, piezometers, inclinometers, pressure gauges, remote sensing and other technologies to monitor tailings dams, abutments, natural slopes and water levels.

  • Staff Inspections: Tailings dams are inspected by trained operators and expert technical staff as frequently as several times daily, with formal staff inspections at least once per month.

  • Annual External Inspections: Formal dam safety inspections are conducted at least annually by an external Engineer of Record. Independent qualified engineers also conduct periodic reviews, with timing dependent upon the consequence classification of the facility. For all facilities, the annual inspection reports are provided to the appropriate authority in each jurisdiction.

  • Internal Review: On a rotation basis of every two to three years, we conduct two levels of internal management review of our tailings facilities. The first is a Tailings Governance Review, which evaluates each site’s conformance of sites with our internal tailings guidance documents and policy. The second level of internal review is an audit by our HSEC management team of operations and legacy properties with tailings storage facilities that could create an off-site impact. These facilities are audited against Teck’s Tailings and Water Retaining Structures guidance requirements.

  • Detailed Third-Party Reviews: Comprehensive third-party dam safety reviews are conducted by an independent tailings reviewer(s) every five to 10 years for active and inactive facilities. The frequency of inspection is based upon the consequence classification for each facility.

  • Independent Review Boards: Our operations and projects with existing or planned major tailings storage facilities have Tailings Review Boards made up of independent experts from relevant fields such as geotechnical, hydrogeological, hydro-technical and geochemical. These boards meet from once to several times per year, depending upon the nature of the facility and the issues being considered by the board, to conduct a third-party review of design, operation, surveillance and maintenance of our storage facilities.

  • Dam Safety Inspection: Annually, the Engineer of Record performs a detailed examination of the facility, its related infrastructure and the records relating to these, with the purpose of identifying any conditions or changes that might contribute to or signal the potential for a compromise to the safety and reliability of the structure.

Each facility also has a detailed Operations, Maintenance and Surveillance manual and Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan, both of which are regularly updated. We maintain site-specific Tailings Management Systems that conform to or exceed industry standards of practice, that demonstrate responsibility and leadership through the commitment and actions of our employees, and that are developed through consultation with COIs. We continually review our facilities and procedures and are committed to maintaining the highest standard of safety at our operations.

In addition to internal assessments of performance against our own guidelines and practices noted as one of our six levels of protection, we assess our tailings management practices under the MAC TSM Tailings Management Protocol. Achieving a minimum of a Level A under TSM is a requirement of our HSEC Management Standards. A Level A rating indicates that tailings management practices that meet industry best practice, as defined by the MAC Tailings Guidelines, have been developed and implemented. All of our operations meet or exceed this standard. Several of our facilities reached a verified Level AAA, which indicates that excellence and leadership in tailings management are demonstrated through validation by an external, independent evaluation. 

Table 47: Summary of Management at Active Major Tailings Storage Facilities at Teck(1),(2),(3)

Operation/Legacy Property

Staff Inspection

Annual External Inspection

Detailed Third-Party Reviews (Frequency)Tailings Review Board

Tailings Review Board

Carmen de Andacollo

Yes

Yes

N/A1

Yes

Elkview    

Yes

Yes

Every 5 years

Yes

Fording River

Yes

Yes

Every 7 years

Yes

Greenhills

Yes

Yes

Every 7 years

Yes

Highland Valley Copper

Yes

Yes

Every 5 years

Yes

Pend Oreille

Yes

Yes

Every 5 years

Yes

Red Dog

Yes

Yes

Every 5 years

Yes

Louvicourt

Yes

Yes 

Every 10 years

Yes

Sullivan

Yes

Yes

Every 10 years

Yes

(1) This type of review not mandated in Chile ⎯ Teck has utilized the Tailings Review Board for this function but will start conducting detailed third-party reviews at our other facilities in 2017.
(2) Pend Oreille Operations is not a major facility with a credible failure mode, so a tailings review board has not been struck. 
(3) Some of the operations have multiple tailings facilities and all of the facilities are included in the review activities noted below.

The bulk of waste rock from our operations is placed in areas that are specifically designed to contain the rock, or it is used to backfill open pits and underground workings. Waste rock that is not susceptible to oxidation processes, which can lead to metal leaching, is also used for reclamation activities and to construct dams and roads. Long-term storage of waste rock is conducted in accordance with closure plans approved by regulatory authorities. These plans can include contouring, covering and revegetation to achieve established land use objectives. 

Coarse coal refuse is mixed with dewatered fine coal refuse within engineered structures at several of our operations for storage efficiency and optimal geotechnical performance. Long-term storage of coarse coal refuse is conducted in accordance with approved closure plans involving contouring, covering and revegetation to achieve established land use objectives. . 

Although a small volume relative to our tailings and waste rock, we treat our other waste management responsibilities with equal focus. Hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are segregated and disposed of in accordance with waste management plans and regulatory requirements. The primary hazardous wastes produced at our operations include waste oil, solvents, antifreeze, paint, batteries and fluorescent tubes. This waste is recycled or disposed of off-site by licensed contractors. Non-hazardous waste (e.g., scrap metal, wood waste, glass, tires, cardboard and paper) is recycled whenever possible.

What was Our Performance in Tailings and Mine Waste Management in 2016?

In this section, we report on tailings management and waste management performance in 2016. 

Tailings Management Performance

We had no significant incidents at our tailings storage facilities in 2016, and all facilities performed as intended with their inspections and reviews conducted as scheduled. The main focus was to improve performance management by ensuring that we had a consistent and appropriate level of internal review and independent external review for our facilities. Where warranted, we also adjusted organizational structure to allow for more for effective risk management.

Table 47: Status of Major Tailings and Water Retaining Structures

 

Operation/Site

Annual Dam Safety Inspections(1)

Dam Safety Reviews(2)

Independent Review Board Activity(3)

Governance Reviews

Up to Date

Up to Date

Next Scheduled

Carmen de Andacollo

Yes

Yes**

2017

Yes

Initial site tested against Teck guidelines in 2015, update review in 2017

Elk Valley

Yes

Yes

2018 (Lagoon D)

2020

(Lagoon C)

Yes

Initial review scheduled for 2017

Fording River

Yes

Yes

2021

Yes

Initial review scheduled for 2017

Greenhills

Yes

Yes

2017

Yes

Completed in 2016

Highland Valley Copper

Yes

Yes

2017

Yes

Completed in 2016

Red Dog

Yes

Yes

2017

Yes

Initial review planned for 2017

Sullivan

Yes

Yes

2018

Yes

Completed in 2015

Louvicourt

Yes

P

2020

Yes

Initial review scheduled for 2017

 

1 Dam Safety Inspection (DSI): Annually, the Engineer of Record (EOR) performs a detailed examination of the facility, its related infrastructure and the records relating to these, with the purpose of identifying any conditions or changes that might contribute to or signal the potential for a compromise to the safety and reliability of the structure.
2 Dam Safety Review (DSR): A facility review by an independent, third-party engineer (or team of engineers) not affiliated with the Engineer of Record (EOR) or the Tailings Review Board (TRB). The frequency on which DSRs are conducted for a particular facility depends upon the failure consequence risk-rating of that structure (i.e., the higher the consequence of facility failure, the more frequent the DSR is performed).
3 Independent review process deemed equivalent best practice to our internal governance review, with Teck personnel fully involved in the process.

Review and Update of Portfolio Risk Management

Teck developed a new corporate tailings policy (Tailings and Water Retaining Structures Policy) and guidance documentation in 2013. The guidance document is based upon our HSEC Management Standards and has been used to provide a consistent company-wide approach to how we manage the risks inherent with tailings. In 2016, a cross-business and cross-functional Tailings Working Group (TWG) was established to track and support those risk management practices. During 2016, we finalized our Tailings and Water Retaining Structures governance framework, held regular TWG sessions, and completed internal governance reviews at Highland Valley Copper and Greenhills operations. We plan to have all major facilities reviewed against our internal policy and guidance documentation by the end of 2017. In addition, all of the dam safety inspections and reviews completed by our external Engineers of Record, as well as all Review Board activities, were reviewed for compliance with both our internal and applicable regulatory requirements. TWG members also participated in several significant industry association efforts in 2016.  

Industry Association Activities

2016 was an active year for industry association activity relative to tailings. We participated in reviews and took appropriate actions to update our guidance materials based on what we learned, including tracking where our internal guidance could be improved and confirming where no actions were required. 
In 2016, ICMM completed a global tailings management review focused on surface tailings management across the 23 member companies, including a review of standards, critical control strategies, governance and emergency preparedness. Teck was an active participant in this effort. 

In November 2015, an independent task force commissioned by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) submitted its review of tailings management requirements and guidance under MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. In June 2016, the MAC Board approved several changes designed to implement the Task Force’s 29 recommendations. Teck was a participant on the MAC task force. 

MAC has a tailings working group that is responsible for responding to the above-noted task force recommendations. Teck chairs that working group and is a leading coordinator of the updated guidance documents being developed by MAC and due for release in 2017 and 2018.

The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, in response to a mandated initiative coming out of the 2014 failure of the Mount Polley dam, developed a guideline for the requirements of foundation investigations for dams. Teck was a member of the review team that developed the guideline. 

Regulator Activities

In response to the Mount Polley Mine tailings storage facility breach, the Province of British Columbia launched two inspections: an Independent Expert Engineering Investigation Panel and an investigation by the Chief Inspector of Mines. The panel and Chief Inspector made 26 recommendations in total, which the government is committed to implementing by the end of 2017. 

The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines released an update to the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code (HSRC) for Mines in British Columbia in July 2016 with changes specific to tailings storage facilities, to address recommendations from the Independent Expert Engineering Panel report on the Mount Polley incident. Teck was an active participant on the joint industry/regulatory committee that prepared the updates to the HSRC.

Waste Management Performance

In 2016, our operations generated approximately 841 million tonnes of mineral waste, with the vast majority being waste rock from the extraction of ore and coal. In 2016, we generated approximately:

  • 73 million tonnes of tailings and fine coal refuse from processing ore and raw coal in 2016 (69 million tonnes in 2015)

  • 10 million tonnes of coarse coal refuse (9 million tonnes in 2015)

  • 759 million tonnes of waste rock (744 million tonnes in 2015)

We do not currently track office and construction waste, which are managed by licensed external waste service providers. 

Table 48: Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Waste in Tonnes (1)

Waste

2016

2015

2014

2013

Non-Hazardous

Sent off-site but not recycled

6,248

3,389

4,797

12,863

Treated/disposed of on-site

39,799

35,519

27,286

100,798

Recycled

14,014

15,536

25,274

28,711

Hazardous

Sent off-site but not recycled

5,195

13,087

15,257

10,087

Treated/disposed of on-site

34,409

36,021

37,309

22,659

Recycled

14,352

13,522

12,523

44,559

(1)Recycled waste includes waste that is diverted from the landfill through recycling and reuse. Waste sent off-site but not recycled includes waste disposed of at appropriate facilities, landfills and deep-well injections.

 

Emerging Risk Tailings Management Technologies

Societal concern on how tailings are managed has increased in the wake of tailings dam failures in 2014 and 2015. There are growing COI expectations that mining companies will implement alternatives to water-covered tailings storage facilities for new mine developments. This may result in changes to regulatory requirements, increased mine construction costs and community opposition if preferred tailings alternatives are not employed. At the same time, this focus has the potential to drive new advancements in tailings technologies over the longer term.

Outlook for Tailings and Mine Waste Management

As the mining industry reviews and improves best practices for tailings management, Teck will continue to play an active role in collaborating with industry partners in 2017. At our operations and legacy properties, we will continue to review our facilities and procedures to maintain the highest standard of safety while meeting all environmental management objectives. We will also ensure our development projects, such as Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 and NuevaUnión, have their tailings and mine waste concepts based upon best practice guidelines, are designed with the full life cycle of the facility, and take into consideration the full involvement of potentially impacted communities. We will also update our internal guidance documents as required to reflect pending updates to industry best practice guidance from both MAC and ICMM, as well as findings based on our performance.

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Teck is a diversified resource company committed to responsible mining and mineral development with business units focused on copper, zinc, steelmaking coal and energy.