Tailings are a common by-product of the mining process, consisting of fine rock particles left over after crushing or washing mined rock. Tailings are stored in specially constructed impoundments to maintain safe storage. These tailings storage facilities are designed to both keep the tailings secure and ensure that they do not impact the surrounding environment.
Historically, tailings storage facilities in the mining industry have been well-managed with few incidents. However, improper management can lead to preventable disasters. Recent tragic events at non-Teck mine sites in Brazil, notably Samarco in 2015 and Brumadinho in 2019, show how extreme these catastrophes can be and why safe management of tailings storage facilities is essential.
Centralized Tailings Oversight
At Teck, we have a well-established central governance program for the management of tailings across all projects, operations and legacy facilities. In a standard approach to tailings governance, facilities are managed at the site level. Under this type of oversight, engineers work to ensure the safety of each facility by conducting regular inspections and maintenance. This site level approach has been shown to be very effective for the industry and remains an important component of Teck’s tailings program.
To ensure safety of all facilities, Teck has implemented an additional layer of responsibility and oversight, which has been deemed industry-leading by outside reviewers. A central Tailings Working Group (TWG) has been established at the corporate level, which ensures that a consistent and industry-leading approach to managing tailings is applied across all our sites.
Teck’s TWG consists of senior subject matter experts selected from across the company with broad experience in the management of tailings facilities. Some of the key responsibilities of the group include:
- Develop and oversee implementation of Teck’s policies for tailings management;
- Serve as technical advisors for tailings-related projects and activities;
- Conduct internal governance reviews of our tailings facilities as well as our major tailings projects;
- Participating in both internal Project Boards and external tailings assurance activities such as Tailings Review Boards;
- Screening third-party qualified engineers for approval to work on Teck projects;
- Support internal and external research and development opportunities for emerging tailings-related technologies
Supporting the Development of a Global Tailings Standard
A final key function of our TWG is participation in industry and stakeholder collaboration. In 2020, the Chair of our TWG participated as the industry advisor to an Expert Panel formed to create the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, published in August 2020. The Standard aims to enhance the safety of mine tailings across the globe, through improved transparency, accountability and heightened consideration for the rights of local communities.
Many of the core governance elements that Teck has embraced for many years are reflected in this Standard. The TWG is now working to implement the new standard at Teck, and continues to play a leadership role in developing upcoming tailings guidance.
Teck’s tailings governance structure has been recognized within our industry, with several of our peers expressing interest in implementing similar oversight models to improve their own governance structures. At the same time, we know that there is always room for further improvement in our tailings governance. Our TWG addresses this opportunity through ongoing internal discussions, research and development, and periodic independent reviews.
Tailings storage facility safety is a top priority to ensure the safety of our employees, our communities and the environments where we operate. Through this innovative approach to management, we continue to search for new ways to enhance our safety performance both now and for the future.
Read more about our approach to tailings management on our website.