Tailings Management

Responsible management of tailings is an important focus of MAC and its members.

Tailings are a by-product of mining, consisting of the processed rock or soil left over from the separation of the commodities of value from the rock or soil within which they occur. If not managed responsibly, tailings can pose potential risks to human health and safety, the environment, infrastructure, and to mining companies themselves. Responsible tailings management is essential to minimizing and mitigating these risks.

MAC has played a leading role in tailings management for more than two decades and tailings management is integral to Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM).

Tailings Management Component of TSM

The objective of the tailings management component of TSM is to continually work towards minimizing harm through the application of effective governance and best engineering practices in the planning, design, construction, operation, and closure of tailings facilities.. Minimizing harm encompasses both physical and chemical performance and risks associated with tailings facilities, including:

  • Zero catastrophic failures of tailings facilities
  • No significant adverse effects on the environment or human health

The tailings management component of TSM includes the Tailings Management Protocol that is used to measure tailings management performance, with five performance indicators focused on:

  • Having a corporate tailings management policy and commitment
  • Developing and implementing site-specific tailings management systems and emergency preparedness measures
  • Assigning accountability and responsibility for tailings management
  • Conducting annual tailings management reviews
  • Developing and implementing site-specific OMS manuals

The Tailings Management Protocol refers to and is supported by:

A Guide to the Management of Tailings Facilities (the Tailings Guide) first released in 1998, provides guidance on responsible tailings management, helps companies develop and implement site-specific tailings management systems, and improves consistency of application of engineering and management principles to tailings management (available in Spanish here).

Developing an Operation, Maintenance and Surveillance Manual for Tailings and Water Management Facilities (the OMS Guide) provides guidance on the development and implementation of OMS manuals. The development and implementation of operation, maintenance, and surveillance (OMS) activities, described in a site-specific OMS manual, is essential to implementing a tailings management plan, meeting performance objectives and managing risk (available in Spanish here).

Table of Conformance which identifies elements of the Tailings Guide and the OMS Guide that must be implemented to meet the performance criteria for each of the indicators in the Tailings Management Protocol. The Table of Conformance can also be used by Owners as a checklist against which to identify gaps or deficiencies in their existing systems and documentation. In addition, the Table of Conformance can be used to inform conformance management, identification of training requirements, and the process of obtaining internal and external approvals.

The Tailings Guide and the OMS Guide are not specific to Canadian conditions, and these Guides can be effectively applied to tailings management anywhere in the world. Furthermore, they are available free of charge in English, French, and Spanish, and can be used by any company striving to improve their tailings management practices. In addition, while written for tailings and associated water management facilities, many aspects of the Tailings Guide and the OMS Guide are equally applicable to the responsible management of other types of facilities, such as waste rock disposal areas and heap leach facilities.

Implemented together, the Tailings Guide and the OMS Guide provide a comprehensive approach to the responsible management of tailings across the entire life cycle of a tailings facility, from the initial planning for tailings management as part of mine planning, through to closure and post-closure.

One of the many strengths of the tailings management component of TSM is that it reflects experience gained by MAC and MAC members over the more than 20 years since the release of the first edition of the Tailings Guide in 1998. Since that first edition, the tailings management component of TSM has continued to evolve and improve, reflecting experience gained, improved knowledge, and the global evolution of best practices for responsible tailings management.

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Equivalency with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

Following the tragic failure of the tailings facility at the Córrego de Feijão mine near Brumadinho, Brazil in 2019, the Global Tailings Review was launched to develop a global standard for tailings management. The review was launched by three co-convening partners:

The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard) was released in August 2020, and has 77 requirements for tailings management addressing six topic areas:

  • Affected communities
  • Integrated knowledge base
  • Design, construction, operation and monitoring of the tailings facility
  • Management and governance
  • Emergency response and long-term recovery
  • Public disclosure and access to information

In response to the release of the Standard, MAC conducted a detailed analysis of alignment between existing TSM requirements and requirements in the Standard, which led to the release of Version 3.2 of the Tailings Guide and Version 2.1 of the OMS Guide. Further information is available here.

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