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Tailings, Waste and 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 many environmental and social issues, the cumulative nature of many environmental impacts, the need to look at different impacts across the mining life cycle and value chain, and the potential vulnerability of ecosystems as a whole.

Responsible environmental management creates value for the communities near mining operations as well as for our stakeholders and shareholders. Meeting or exceeding environmental standards contributes to support for mining, recruitment and retention of employees and, on the global stage, helps to meet the objectives of several UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The recently released International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) position statement on tailings management focuses on a governance framework that includes six key elements: accountability, responsibility and competency; planning and resourcing; risk management; change management; emergency preparedness and response; review and assurance.(10)

Responsible environmental management is embedded in Teck’s values through our commitment to sustainability, as well as in our Code of Sustainable Conduct. We also work in highly regulated jurisdictions with stringent and rigorously applied environmental legislation, which also makes environmental and waste management a key compliance issue. Changes in environmental laws may have a material effect on our operations, both in terms of effort required to receive permits and investments required to achieve and maintain compliance. Successfully acquiring major regulatory approvals remained a key strategic priority across our business units in 2017.

Tailings and mine waste rock are common by-products of mining practice. Tailings facilities are typically well managed with very few incidents; however, a tailings incident has the potential to make a significant impact. As such, responsible management of tailings and waste rock is a key element of protecting environmental and human health in mining.

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 best practices. In 2017, 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 joining a project consortium co-funded by the Australian Research Council, an initial three-year applied research program, along with four universities in Australia and several other mining companies, focused on finding more effective tools for predicting and avoiding tailings facility failures.


(10) Preventing Catastrophic Failure of Tailings Storage Facilities. International Council on Mining and Metals. 2016.

Teck's Approach to Tailings and Mine Waste Management

Tailings and mine waste rock are common by-products of mining practice. Tailings facilities are historically well-managed with very few incidents; however, a tailings incident has the potential to have a significant impact on communities, local economies and the surrounding environment. Teck operates 10 mines and multiple legacy properties with active tailings storage facilities, and responsible management of tailings and waste rock is critical for our company. 

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 & CEO and is responsible for sustainability, health and safety, environment, community and Indigenous affairs, among areas 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. 

Managing tailings and mine waste is part of our annual company objectives, especially in our HSEC performance. HSEC performance is a factor in Teck’s bonus structure and affects from 15% to 20% of each department’s bonuses for all executives. In addition, the personal component of executive bonus ratings may include specific objectives related to HSEC matters, including tailings and mine waste management. 

Teck has a Tailings and Water Retaining Structures Policy and associated guidance documentation that provide a consistent company-wide approach to how we manage the risks inherent with tailings. In addition, Teck has a companion Tailings Governance document that 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. These management standards, the associated guidance documents, and our adherence to them, are overseen by the Safety and Sustainability Committee of the Board.

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
     
  • Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia: As a member company, Teck’s Senior Advisor, Tailings & Mine Waste was a reviewer for the guideline for the requirements of foundation investigations for dams that was issued in 2016
     
  • 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, 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 is the finer fractions of the processed mined material that have no economically recoverable commodity. These materials are typically stored in tailings storage facilities.

Waste Rock: Waste rock is the rock that is removed to access ores and coal, which typically contains 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 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, and 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. 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.

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 GPS hubs, piezometers, inclinometers, pressure gauges, 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 pre-determined mitigation activities should trends of 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: Formal dam safety inspections are conducted at least annually by an external Engineer of Record, a fully licensed, qualified individual in the relative jurisdiction, who has their qualifications vetted by our Tailings Working Group. 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 review 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: Comprehensive third-party dam safety reviews are conducted by a qualified independent tailings reviewer(s), vetted by our Tailings Working Group, every five to 10 years for active and inactive facilities. The frequency of inspection is based upon 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 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
     

Each facility also has a detailed Operations, Maintenance and Surveillance (OMS) 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 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.

In addition to internal assessments of performance against our own guidelines and practices noted as one of our management practices, 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 that excellence and leadership in tailings management are demonstrated through validation by an external, independent evaluation. 

Table 1: Tailings Management Internal and External Audits

Type

Organization

Items Audited

External

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

External

ISO 14001 external audits

Components of the environmental management system at each site

Internal

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

Our Performance in Tailings, Waste and Environmental Management in 2017

Tailings Management Performance

In 2017, we managed 62 tailings facilities (31 active and 31 closed) across our operations and legacy properties. We had no significant incidents at our tailings storage facilities in 2017, and all facilities performed as intended, with their inspections and reviews conducted as scheduled. The main focus was to improve 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 our organizational structure to allow for more effective risk management. Tailings Governance Reviews, a new and additional level of facility oversight we have introduced to our performance program, were conducted at our Pend Oreille, Fording River, Red Dog and Carmen de Andacollo operations and at our Louvicourt legacy site to evaluate conformance with our internal tailings guidance documents and policy.

Tailings Review Activities

In 2016, a cross-business and cross-functional Tailings Working Group (TWG) and Tailings and Water Retaining Structures governance framework was established. All of our major facilities were reviewed against our internal policy and guidance documentation as of the end of 2017, as indicated by the Governance Review column in Table 20. Elkview has several smaller facilities and will be completed in 2018, as will the Quintette legacy property. In addition, all of the dam safety inspections and reviews completed by our external Engineers of Record, along with all Independent Review Board activities, were reviewed for conformance with both our internal and applicable regulatory requirements. 

Table 20: Status of Major Tailings and Water Retaining Structures

Location

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

2018

Second review completed in 2017
Third review scheduled for 2019

Elkview

2018

Initial review scheduled for 2018

Fording River

2019

Initial review completed in 2017
Second review scheduled for 2019

Greenhills

2022

Initial review completed in 2016
Second review scheduled for 2018

Quintette

2021

Initial review scheduled for 2018

Highland Valley Copper

Highland 2022
Trojan/Bethlehem 2018
Highmont 2018

Initial review completed in 2016
Second review scheduled for 2018

Red Dog

2020

Initial review completed 2017
Second review scheduled for 2019

Sullivan(4)

2018

Initial review completed in 2015
Second review scheduled for 2018

Louvicourt(4)

2020

Initial review completed in 2017
Second review scheduled for 2020

(1) Dam Safety Inspection: The 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.
(2) Dam Safety Review: A 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.
(3) Independent Review Boards: Review 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. 
(4) Legacy property.
 

Industry Association Activities

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. The MAC Board approved several changes designed to implement the Task Force’s 29 recommendations and tasked MAC’s Tailings Working Group with addressing the recommendations. Teck chairs that Working Group, which produced a revised Tailings Management Guide in November 2017 representing global best practice. In late 2016, ICMM released a Tailings Position Statement, and through 2017, it worked with its members on implementation. Teck is an active participant in this work.

Our internal guidelines are consistent with both ICMM and MAC principles and guidance. 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, enhancing integration of risk evaluation and critical controls.

Regulator Activities

The governments of Alaska, British Columbia and Alberta all updated their requirements related to tailings facilities in terms of external review, design guidelines and operational practices. All of our facilities are in compliance with the relevant requirements. 

Waste Management Performance

In 2017, our operations generated approximately 917 million tonnes of mineral waste, with the vast majority being waste rock from the extraction of ore and coal. 

Figure 20: 2017 Mineral Waste
 

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

Figure 21: Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Waste in Tonnes(1)

Recycling

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 22: Recycling Program at Trail Operations 

Regulation, Permitting and Approvals

Our licence to operate depends on our ability to meet legal compliance requirements and demonstrate value to both shareholders and communities. We continually monitor and manage the social and environmental aspects of our activities in order to meet or exceed regulations and to ensure regulatory compliance and performance. 

In 2017, we received permits to commence mining in new areas at the Fording River, Elkview and Greenhills operations, which will extend the lives of these mines and allow us to increase production to compensate for the closure of Coal Mountain Operations in 2018. 

At our NuevaUnión project in central Chile, we conducted environmental baseline studies and ongoing community engagement in support of a prefeasibility study. At the Zafranal copper-gold project in southern Peru, the project team completed environmental, social and archaeological studies. A feasibility study commenced in 2017 at Zafranal, along with expanded community engagement activities and the permitting work necessary to prepare a social and environmental impact assessment (SEIA). At the San Nicolás copper-zinc project in Zacatecas, Mexico, environmental and social baseline studies, preliminary hydrogeological studies, and project engineering programs were initiated in the third quarter of 2017 in support of a prefeasibility study and SEIA.

The review of the environmental assessment application for Teck’s Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project in northern Chile continued during 2017 after the application was submitted in September 2016. A decision to proceed with development will be contingent upon market conditions and receipt of regulatory approvals, among other considerations. Given the timeline of the regulatory process, such a decision is not expected before the second half of 2018. 

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 no environmental incidents at any of our projects and operations that were considered significant in 2017.

In 2017, we were challenged to meet permit limits associated with nitrate levels at the Line Creek Operations compliance point. Working with regulators, we developed a nitrate Compliance Action Plan (CAP) that outlines a path forward and the timing of activities that will support bringing Line Creek Operations back into compliance with the nitrate limits. These activities include improved blasting practices such as the lining of blastholes, reducing misfires and minimizing the amount of time that blasting materials are kept in boreholes, and improved water management including increased diversion and pit dewatering capacity. The CAP will be updated as required to incorporate learnings from monitoring and the regional water quality model update to continue to support reduction of nitrate concentrations in Line Creek.

Additional information on our monitoring program is available in the 2017 Environmental Monitoring Committee Public Report

Environmental Litigation 

Upper Columbia River 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 pages 108–110 of our 2017 Annual Information Form.

Charges, Fines and Penalties

In March 2017, Teck was ordered to pay $285,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and a $15,000 penalty to regulators as a result of three violations of the B.C. Environmental Management Act associated with maintenance work being done to upgrade a sedimentation pond at Elkview Operations in 2012. Teck did not notify the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy of changes to the works, which is required by permit. Two unauthorized discharges of sediment-laden water were made from the sedimentation pond, which released to Goddard Creek. One of the two discharges was not immediately reported to the Ministry.

In May 2017, Teck was ordered to pay $195,000 to the non-profit Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and a $5,000 fine under the B.C. Environmental Management Act related to a 2014 sheep mortality incident at Greenhills Operations. In July 2014, five deceased bighorn sheep were found in an area at Greenhills Operations where materials used for blasting are kept. It is believed the sheep died as the result of ingesting materials stored in the area. Following the incident, Greenhills and their supplier of blasting materials implemented additional safeguards and procedures, including increased materials storage and handling measures, video surveillance, and enhanced training for employees.

In October 2017, Teck received a $1.425 million fine in relation to charges under the Fisheries Act relating to the October 2014 fish mortality incident that occurred in the area of the water treatment works at the West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility at our Line Creek Operations during commissioning of the facility. Funds are expected to be used for purposes related to the conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat or the restoration of fish habitat in the East Kootenay region of B.C. Following the incident, an extensive investigation was undertaken, and numerous measures to prevent a reoccurrence were implemented. These included improved monitoring and incident response programs, additional process controls, and the creation of an effluent buffer pond to allow early identification and management of potential issues before discharge of water.

In November 2017, Teck paid an Administrative Penalty of $78,100 related to effluent non-compliances experienced at the Heavy Duty Steambay at Line Creek Operations from 2014 to 2017. Improvements to the Steambay effluent collection system were made to prevent recurrence of the non-compliances.

Outlook 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 in 2018. We will also update our policies, governance structure and guidance documents applicable to all of Teck’s tailings and water retention facilities based on recommendations from MAC and ICMM, released in 2017. We will also continue to improve our environmental safeguards and prevent reoccurrence of environmental incidents on a site-by-site basis. Finally, we will enhance our capacity to share learnings and identify best practice by further strengthening our internal environmental community of practice.

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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.