The conference on Tailings and Mine Waste 11 is ended and we can now sit back and reflect on what it all means. The easiest way to do this is to look at the PowerPoint slides from Andy Robertson’s keynote address. They are now on InfoMine at this link.
Only Andy could say the things he does and not be branded a heretic. His take on the current state of mine waste is that of a mature professional, who has been through the wringer and has changed his opinion over the years. Now he is at the forefront of thinking about the present and future on tailings and mine waste. And his take is sober and somber. In brief his take is this: if we are to continue to mine, our tailings dams will have to get bigger and higher, and the consequential risk will grow. He wonders when society will shout STOP. He wonders if we will be forced to mine big mines and not develop small mines. And develop only mines in places where conditions are conducive to safe impoundments.
He captures his perspective in a new word. He says: “We are not dam building — we are terraforming.” In my words, we are creating new topographic forms that will perform in accordance with the inevitable and unavoidable laws of geomorphics in perpetuity. And if we build topographic forms not found in nature, we are embarking on a dangerous course not hitherto mapped or trod.
Andy likens the process to dealing with dragons. These are his dragons:
- The Fearful Dragon: High tailings dams that may cease to meet the test of long-term acceptability.
- The Sulfate Dragon: Sustainability of contaminated water collection and treatment.
- The Vulnerability Dragon: Geosynthetics in construction where durability is required.
- The Difficult Dragon: Paste tailings and slimes management.
- The Immortal Dragon: Closure Plans that may morph into Post-closure Sustainability Use Plans.
Andy quotes Ed McRoberts in giving advice on how to proceed: Do not tickle the dragon. Let him sleep or get a Siegfried to slay him with Nothung.