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Tailings, Waste & Environmental Management

Our tailings and waste management and performance; environmental compliance; significant environmental incidents; our involvement in environmental litigation, fines and penalties; and our progress on permits and approvals.

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

Tailings, Waste and Environmental Management

Due to the physical disturbance of the land, generation of air- and water-based emissions, use of resources, and associated production processes, mining has the potential to adversely impact the environment. Many of these impacts can be mitigated or avoided through proper management and recognition of the interrelated nature of environmental issues, the cumulative nature of many environmental impacts, and the need to look at impacts across the mining life cycle and value chain.

We work in highly regulated jurisdictions with stringent and rigorously applied environmental legislation, which also makes environmental and waste management a key compliance issue. There is potential through future innovation to substantially reduce tailings and waste rock beyond current technologies, but currently there are tens of thousands of mine waste facilities globally and, more specifically, thousands of tailings facilities.

In recent years, there have been serious tailings facility failures, including the tragic failure at Vale’s Brumadinho facility in Brazil in January 2019. Responsible management of tailings and waste rock is essential for protecting both the environment and human health. Tailings storage facilities at all of our operating and closed sites meet or exceed regulatory requirements, and we are continually improving the management of our facilities by developing and incorporating leading practices.

In 2018, Teck continued to play an active role in promoting best practices for tailings facility management, both in our own operations and across the mining industry. This included continued work with academic institutions such as the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Western Australia and Universidad de Chile to aid in providing programs with practical tools through industry-based education materials and in looking for innovative tailings and mine waste management solutions through industry-academia research and development.


Our Approach to Tailings and Mine Waste Management

The Board of Directors, through its Safety and Sustainability Committee, broadly oversees health, safety, environment and community policies, systems, performance and auditing, including implementation of our Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) Management Standards and tailings guidance. Our activities associated with tailings and waste management are reported to the Safety and Sustainability Committee of the Board and/or to our HSEC Risk Management Committee.

The following senior leaders are involved in implementing the management of tailings and mine waste:

  • The Senior Vice President, Sustainability and External Affairs reports directly to the President and CEO and is responsible for sustainability, health and safety, environment, community, and Indigenous affairs, including tailings management

  • The Vice President, Environment oversees compliance with environmental standards for projects, operations and our legacy properties, and regularly reviews environmental performance risks and strategic issues, including tailings, biodiversity, water, air and energy

  • The Senior Advisor, Tailings & Mine Waste chairs our Tailings Working Group and reports directly to the Vice President, Environment

The Tailings Working Group includes members of our senior management team and tailings management subject matter experts from operations where we have active tailings storage facilities. The group provides oversight and guidance, and conducts reviews to ensure alignment with Teck’s guidelines for tailings management. This activity includes engaging qualified professionals for the entire life cycle of our tailings facilities for completing independent reviews.

Teck’s Tailings and Water Retaining Structures governance framework provides a consistent company-wide approach to how we manage the risks inherent with tailings. This framework provides clear guidance on roles and responsibilities related to tailings management across all Teck projects, operations and legacy properties.

Teck’s HSEC Management Standards also include general guidance on tailings and mine waste management. The Safety and Sustainability Committee of the Board oversees these management standards, the associated guidance documents, and our adherence to them.

We work with various local, national and international organizations and programs to support improvements in tailings and mine waste management across the industry:

  • International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM): A global industry association that represents leading international mining and metals companies who are required to implement the ICMM 10 Principles

  • Mining Association of Canada (MAC): A national association that promotes the development of Canada’s mining and mineral processing industry. Through MAC, we are required to implement the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program, which aids in improving industry performance. Teck’s Senior Advisor, Tailings & Mine Waste is the Chair of MAC’s Tailings Working Group.

  • Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA): An alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation

  • Engineers and Geoscientists BC: As a member company, Teck’s Senior Advisor, Tailings & Mine Waste was a reviewer for the guideline that was issued in 2016 for the requirements of foundation investigations for dams

  • Australian Research Council: In 2017, Teck became part of an initial three-year applied research program, along with four universities in Australia and several other mining companies, that is focused on finding more effective tools for predicting and avoiding tailings facility failures

The following categories of waste are products of Teck’s operations. Waste disposal methods are determined based on data and information provided by waste management suppliers specific to each site’s applicable factors.

Tailings and Fine Coal Refuse: Tailings and fine coal refuse are the finer fractions of the processed mined material that have no economically recoverable commodities. These materials are typically stored in tailings storage facilities.

Waste Rock and Overburden: Waste rock and overburden, which is material that is removed to access ores, coal and oil sands, typically contain trace amounts of naturally occurring metals and other constituents. The bulk of waste rock from our operations is placed in areas that are specifically designed to contain the rock. The remainder of the rock that may still have some geochemical concern is placed within tailings storage facilities or used to backfill open pits and underground workings. Waste rock that is not susceptible to geochemical instability such as oxidation processes, which can lead to metal leaching, is also used for reclamation activities and to construct dams, roads and similar structures. Long-term storage of waste rock and overburden is conducted in accordance with closure plans and approved by regulatory authorities. These plans most often include contouring, covering and revegetation to achieve established land use objectives. 

Coarse Coal Refuse: Coarse coal refuse is a coarse fraction of raw coal that is separated during processing; it is not currently an economic product. Coarse coal refuse is placed in designated engineered facilities or, if determined to not be susceptible to leaching, it may be used as a construction material. Coarse coal refuse can also be mixed with dewatered fine coal refuse within engineered structures; Teck carries out this practice at several of our operations for storage efficiency and optimal geotechnical performance. Long-term storage of coarse coal refuse is conducted in accordance with regulatory approved closure plans, which most often involves contouring, covering and revegetation to achieve established land use objectives.

Hazardous Waste and Non-Hazardous Waste: Although a very 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 material-specific waste management plans and regulatory requirements. The primary hazardous wastes produced at our operations include waste oil, solvents, antifreeze, paint, batteries and fluorescent tubes. Licensed contractors recycle or dispose of this waste off-site. Non-hazardous waste (e.g., scrap metal, wood waste, glass, tires, cardboard and paper) is recycled whenever possible.

Tailings storage facilities at all our operations meet or exceed regulatory requirements, and we work to continually improve the management of these 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/approved 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

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

  1. Surveillance Technology: Dictated upon site-specific conditions and approved designs, our sites employ surveillance systems such as piezometers, inclinometers, pressure gauges, satellite and other remote sensing, and other technologies to monitor tailings dams, abutments, natural slopes and water levels. The surveillance information is evaluated against established response levels that include predetermined mitigation activities, should unusual performance arise.

  2. 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.

  3. Annual External Inspections: A fully licensed, qualified individual who is vetted by our Tailings Working Group conducts formal dam safety inspections at least annually. 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.

  4. Internal Review: On a formal rotation basis every two to three years, we conduct internal management reviews of our tailings facilities. These Tailings Governance Reviews evaluate each site’s conformance with our internal tailings guidance documents and policy. In addition, informal and more frequent reviews of our facilities are carried out by one or more members of our Tailings Working Group during routine site evaluations, which assist in reinforcing the issues discussed during the most recent governance reviews.

  5. Detailed Third-Party Reviews: A qualified independent tailings reviewer, vetted by our Tailings Working Group, conducts comprehensive third-party dam safety reviews every five to 10 years for active and inactive facilities. The frequency of inspection is based on the consequence classification for each facility.

  6. 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 areas, such as geotechnical, hydrogeological, hydro-technical and geochemical fields. 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.

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

Antamina and Fort Hills, joint venture operations where Teck is not the operator, both have Tailings Review Boards in place as well. Teck also provides senior experts to Antamina’s Tailings Technical Committee.

We are committed to the safe and environmentally responsible development, operation and management of tailings storage facilities. 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.

In addition, we aim to have zero significant environmental incidents across the organization.

In addition to the external review processes and the internal assessments of performance against our own guidelines and practices noted above, we assess our tailings management practices under MAC’s 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 excellence and leadership in tailings management, through validation by an external, independent evaluation.

Table 1: Tailings Management Internal and External Audits



Items Audited


Mining Association of Canada: Towards Sustainable Mining audit

Tailings management policy and commitment

Tailings management system

Assigned accountability and responsibility for tailings management

Annual tailings management review

Operation, maintenance and surveillance manual


ISO 14001 external audits

Components of the environmental management system at each site


Risk-based Health, Safety and Environment audits at each site

Adherence to regulatory and permit requirements; effectiveness of controls based on risk profile

Following each of these audits, applicable management teams use the results to inform future actions and Teck’s five-year planning process

Dam Safety Inspection Reports

Dam Safety Inspection Reports

Dam Safety Inspections (DSIs) are one of the measures in place for the safe management of our tailings facilities. DSIs are conducted annually by a third-party Engineer of Record for mine tailings facilities in order to to review the safe operation, maintenance and surveillance of the facility and to identify and make any recommendations.

Follow link for DSIs for Teck’s tailings facilities by operation.

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Our Performance in Tailings, Waste and Environmental Management in 2018

Tailings Management Performance

Teck manages 55 tailings facilities. Of these, 35 are at our operating mines, and 20 are at the legacy properties that we manage. This includes 15 dry stack facilities at our steelmaking coal mines. Of the 55 tailings facilities, 16 are in active use and 39 are closed and no longer receiving tailings. We had zero significant incidents at our tailings storage facilities in 2018, and all facilities performed as intended, with their inspections and assorted internal and external reviews conducted as scheduled. The main focus of our 2018 performance evaluation process was to improve management by ensuring that we had consistent and appropriate levels of internal and independent external review for our facilities commensurate with each facility’s risk profile.

All of our operating and legacy facilities are reviewed against our internal policy and guidance documentation on a regular schedule, as described in Table 29. These reviews are designed to evaluate our conformance with international best practices, our internal policy/standards and applicable regulatory requirements.

Beyond the comprehensive external reviews, an additional level of facility oversight has been implemented by Teck for our tailings facilities. This oversight is provided by our Tailings Working Group, which includes subject matter experts from across our business units and sites. Tailings Governance Reviews are carried out by this group every second year at our operations and every third year at our legacy properties, as shown in Table 29. These reviews include confirmation that we have the personnel and procedures in place to meet our commitments and that we are addressing recommendations for continual improvement from our external reviews in a meaningful and timely manner.

We conducted Governance Reviews at our Elkview, Highland Valley Copper, Greenhills, Cardinal River, Sullivan, Quintette and Bullmoose sites and, in conjunction with Suncor, at Fort Hills to evaluate conformance with our internal tailings guidance documents and policy. We also have an ongoing process with the other shareholders of the Antamina mine that meets the requirements of our Governance Review process. We also introduced Governance Reviews to our major projects for the first time in 2018, which included our Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project.

From the combined Governance Review process in 2018, there were no significant findings; however, several value-added items were identified and are being actioned by the sites.

Table 29: Status of Major Tailings and Water Retaining Structures


Annual Dam Safety Inspections(1)

Dam Safety Reviews(2)

Independent Review Board Activity(3)

Governance Reviews

Up to Date

Up to Date

Carmen de Andacollo




Third review scheduled for 2019





Initial review completed in 2018

Fording River




Second review scheduled for 2019





Second review completed in 2018

Highland Valley Copper




Second review completed in 2018

Red Dog




Second review scheduled for 2019





Second review completed in 2018





Second review scheduled for 2020

1The Engineer of Record performs a detailed examination of the facility, its related infrastructure and the records relating to these, to identify any conditions or changes that might contribute to or signal the potential for a compromise to the safety and reliability of the structure.
2A facility review by an independent, third-party engineer not affiliated with the Engineer of Record or the Tailings Review Board. The frequency of these reviews depends on the failure consequence risk-rating of that structure.
3Review by a team of independent senior subject matter experts who review the facility design approach, surveillance results and a site’s overall approach to tailings management, including performance of the Engineer of Record.
4Legacy property.

Industry Association Activities

Teck chairs the MAC Tailings Working Group that has been responsible for providing industry-leading best-practice guidance, including key industry guidance documents issued in 2017 and 2018. Teck was also an active participant on ICMM’s Tailings Position Statement and Governance Framework, and is a participant on ICMM’s leadership work on an aspirational goal of reducing reliance on conventional tailings practices.

Our internal guidelines are consistent with both ICMM and MAC principles and guidance. This guidance was updated in 2018 by our Tailings Working Group and will be the basis for our 2019 Governance Reviews. As a result of our ongoing Tailings Governance Review processes, and based on themes from the MAC and ICMM advancements, we are further strengthening our guidance related to change management, roles and responsibilities, enhancing integration of risk evaluation and identifying critical controls.

Waste Management Performance

In 2018, our operations generated approximately six million tonnes of mineral waste, with the vast majority being waste rock from the extraction of ore and steelmaking coal.

Figure 24: Mineral Waste

Teck’s methods for recycling include recycling for value recovery, industrial waste processing and domestic recycling. We do not currently track office and construction waste, which are managed by licensed external waste service providers.

Figure 25: Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Waste (tonnes)(1)


We recycle in accordance with international, national, provincial and local requirements, and we aim to exceed these requirements. Continually improving recycling at our operations by identifying and sharing best practices throughout the company is our goal — including ongoing assessments of our recycling and reuse practices.

At our Trail Operations, we recycle materials purchased from external users. Our focus remains on treating cathode ray tube glass, plus small quantities of zinc alkaline batteries and other post-consumer waste, through our lead acid battery recycling program.

Figure 26: Recycling Program at Trail Operations

Regulation, Permitting and Approvals

In August 2018, we received regulatory approval for our Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) project in the Tarapacá Region in northern Chile. QB2 is expected to be a high-quality, low-cost, long-life operation with significant expansion potential that will substantially increase Teck’s copper production and generate considerable value for many years. The project incorporates extensive environmental measures, including the first large-scale use of desalinated seawater for mining in Chile’s Tarapacá Region, in place of fresh water use.

A key milestone in advancing Teck’s Frontier project was a public hearing in front of a Joint Federal/Provincial Review Panel, which took place from September to December 2018 in Fort McMurray and Calgary, Alberta. This is an important milestone in our efforts to achieve project approval and enhance the overall value of Frontier.

At our Zafranal copper-gold project in southern Peru, environmental, social and archeological studies were completed as well as ongoing community engagement to support a social and environmental impact assessment. At the San Nicolás copper-zinc project in Zacatecas, Mexico, environmental and social baseline, preliminary hydrogeological and project engineering studies were advanced in support of a prefeasibility study and preparation of an environmental impact assessment. In addition, a local dialogue house was opened to facilitate and further strengthen community engagement.

In 2018, our Galore Creek project 50:50 partner changed from NOVAGOLD to Newmont. The project team commenced a three- to four-year work program to reinitiate permitting-related activities and to complete an updated prefeasibility study working collaboratively with the Tahltan Nation under the existing participation agreement.

Significant Environmental Incidents

We assess the severity of environmental incidents based on their potential environmental, safety, community, reputational and financial impacts. Based on our incident severity criteria, there were zero environmental incidents at any of our projects and operations that were considered significant in 2018. For information on our Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, see this page.

Environmental Litigation

Environmental litigation regarding the Upper Columbia River and involving the Confederated Colville Tribes and the Spokane Tribe of Indians continues. For more information, see page 115-117 of our 2018 Annual Information Form.

Charges, Fines and Penalties

In September 2018, Teck was ordered to pay an Administrative Penalty of $22,000 in relation to the bypass of a catch basin at Greenhills Operations, while undertaking maintenance on a spillway, which resulted in the death of 83 westslope cutthroat trout in August 2015. Following the incident, the site undertook an investigation that resulted in the implementation of numerous measures to prevent a reocurrence.

During the third quarter of 2018, Teck received notice from Canadian federal prosecutors of potential charges under the Fisheries Act in connection with discharges of selenium and calcite from steelimaking coal mines in the Elk Valley. Since 2014, compliance limits and site performance objectives for selenium and other constituents, as well as requirements to address calcite, in surface water throughout the Elk Valley and in the Koocanusa Reservoir have been established under a regional permit issued by the provincial government, which references the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan. If federal charges are laid, potential penalties may include fines as well as orders with respect to operational matters.

Outlook for Tailings, Waste and Environmental Management

In 2019, we will continue working to improve our environmental performance and continue maintaining the highest standards for tailings, waste and environmental 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. For example, we will collaborate with TAILLIQ, a university/industry research project whose purpose is to help better understand and reduce the risk of mine tailings loss of containment from static liquefaction. Our work with Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) will continue in 2019, with work on both long-term performance and the potential to dewater tailings. We will also continue our engagements with ICMM’s and MAC’s tailings working groups in 2019 to evaluate how the industry guidance that is developed through these efforts is adopted by the various jurisdictions where Teck operates.


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