The oft-asked question I get is this: how do you prevent a recurrence of the Mt Polley failure?
I have touched on some aspects of the answer in previous postings. But let me, here, state my opinion succinctly. Sure to be controversial, but this is what I truly believe is necessary to prevent a recurrence of Mt Polley, at least here in BC.
At least the following should be done for every tailings facility (in BC?):
Responsible Engineer: There must be an engineer of record for each and every tailings facility. Preferably this should be a named professional engineer. I may countenance a company, but I prefer a real live person. The responsible engineer must know all the facts of the facility and should feel free to offer his or her opinion without fear of dismissal or reprisal. The responsible engineer should issue an annual report on construction and operation of the tailings facility–this report must be provided to the regulators.
Peer Review Committee: This committee should include at least three senior persons knowledgeable about tailings management. They should be independent of the company or person who is the responsible engineer. They should meet at least once a year and preferably twice a year. Their reports should go to senior management and to the regulators.
Dam Safety Engineer. This person must be independent of the responsible engineer and the peer review committee. They should inspect the tailings facility at least every three years and report on the safety of the facility. Their reports must go to the regulators, the peer review committee, the engineer of record, and mine management. Preferable a different person should do the dam safety evaluation each time–no point I getting a built-in bias.
Mine Tailings Engineer. There should be at every mine an engineer designated in charge of the tailings facility. These folk need not necessarily be registered professional engineers, although that would be good. But they must have experience and the ability to act when things need attention.
Trained Operators: The people who run the tailings facility on a daily basis should be trained in what they do. I would recommend that APEGBC or similar run the courses. The operators should present to the peer review committee their observations and opinions without fear of reprisal.
Professional Regulators: The regulators, MEM in the case of BC, should have on staff professional engineers who are able to review all reports and who have the power to make the mine do what the responsible engineer, the peer review committee, and the dam safety engineer recommend.
As far as I know, it is only at the oil sands mines that this system is in place. And they have a good record. Of course there is controversy about the oil sands tailings facilities. But from personal experience, I know the system works and weeds out incidents and errors before they lead to failure.
In support of my proposition, see the recent piece by Gordon Hoekstra of the Vancouver Sun which reports as follows:
Dangerous occurrences at tailings storage facilities at mines in B.C. between 2000 and 2012 included a breach of a dike, the discovery of sinkholes and leaked tailings.
The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines provided details of 49 dangerous occurrences at tailings ponds at the request of The Vancouver Sun following Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam collapse on Aug. 4.
The chief inspector of mines’ annual reports provide an annual breakdown of the number of dangerous occurrences, but the mines ministry initially balked at providing details of the dangerous occurrences, requested 10 days ago.
That is a lot of incidents! The sinkhole incident in particular would have worried me. Which only goes to show that in addition to all I have suggested above, the regulators should be required to post on an easily accessible website, all reports from the mine, the responsible engineer, the peer review committee, and the dam safety engineer. In addition the regulators should post all their correspondence with the mine. Open information is the best way to guarantee safety. Hiding it behind wall of confidentiality is a sure way to another failure.
On which, I cannot but wonder when we will get at least the following about Mt Polley:
- The original design report.
- Knight Piesold subsequent design changes.
- The AMEC design change documents
- The AMEC annual reports.
- Peer Review reports
- The Dam Safety reports whose authors I know not.
I presume these reports exist, for if they do not, I have proven my point: not all was done as it should have been done, and the failure occurred. And if they do not exist, how can the expert panel make any decision or recommendation other than what I write here? And if they exist and are given to Messrs. Morgenstern, Vick, and Van Zyl why should we ordinary mortals not see them too?
Finally, we the public should be entitled to see the mine closure plans and cost estimates. As I noted in a previous posting I think these are grossly inadequate. Let us see this from MEM:
- A list of BC mines
- The Closure Plans
- The cost estimate for closure.
It should all be so easy, but it is not. Why?