The myth that modern tailings dams are immune to malfunction and failure is evidenced by a series of new reports on the Philex tailings dam. Here are links and extracts from two of the reports on this facility:
Philex unstable tailings. MANILA – Residents of Benguet province and all communities downriver of Agno and San Roque dam continue to live in danger from the accumulated toxic wastes of Philex Mining Corporation. Although Philex has shut down since Aug. 1 its sole gold mining operations – and it tells the public the mines would remain closed until the company has attended to the reported cracks and resulting leakages from its mine tailings pond – communities living near the site said they hope Philex would just shut down its mining operations permanently.
Rivers Cleaned up while repair continues: BAGUIO CITY—Philex Mining Corp. has deployed a cleanup crew to Benguet tributaries to remove chemicals and sediments discharged from its tailings dam at its Padcal mine in Itogon, Benguet, on Aug. 1, a company official said on Friday. A government team sent by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to oversee the repairs of the tailings dam joined the crew at the waterways that flow toward the Agno and Balog river channels, lawyer Eduardo Aratas, Philex legal officer, said. In an Aug. 10 statement, Philex said the teams were tasked to prevent silt from reaching the convergence area going to the San Roque Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan. The firm’s Tailings Dam No. 3 in Itogon accidentally discharged nontoxic water and sediments that was stopped “in less than 48 hours,” after its discovery on Aug. 1, Philex said in a statement.
There are plenty more reports accessible via Google search. None really gets to the nub of what is going on. There are vague statements on failure, seepage, sediments in rivers, non-toxic discharges, and penstock failures. My first take is that seepage occurred at penstocks and water and sediments flowed into river.
Now we can be racialist and brand this as just another example of third-world country practice. Or maybe it is just the sloppy way tailings are managed in Indonesia—they are not Anglo-Saxons after all. It is just one of those Catholic, or is it Muslim, places where corruption is rampant and modern tailings engineering practices absent.
We can be historical and say this is old fashioned practice not repeated by nice international companies like Anglo American with its non-anglo and non-american roots. This could not conceivable occur in nice white-dominate protestant countries.
Yet the company’s website brags thus:
The Padcal Mine’s Environmental Management System (EMS) sustained its ISO 14001 Certification, showcasing the Company’s advocacy for responsible mining. The confirmation of the Continued Certification was based on the successful audit results of the Second Surveillance Audit by the Certification International (CI) last June 2010. Since 2002, the Company has maintained its ISO 14001 Certification, a testimony to its firm commitment to operate and mine responsibly.
They go further and maintain:
Philex, as a socially and environmentally responsible Philippine company striving for excellence in mineral resource development, is committed to the continual improvement of its operations, to minimize adverse environmental impacts, to comply with applicable legislations and other requirements, and to promote environmental awareness and commitment among its workers at all levels.
So they are committed and socially responsible. But in the nature of things, things go wrong. And usually with a vengeance. The goddess of Hubris is a vengeful goddess and in cahoots with the Black Swan. To the extent that share price has dropped 32 percent. The market is goddess, guided by the hand of infinitely wise investors, and always right, so we have a good measure of the credibility of the official announcements.
The point of all this is that their lawyers fucked up and let all this news get out. The real and only difference between this company and other mining companies is that their lawyers are incompetent. Most modern mining companies have lawyers who are able to stop new reports of this type from getting out and being blogged about. I have three in my back pocket that I cannot write about because skilled and vicious lawyers succeed in what they are paid plenty to do.
So let this stand as a challenge to all those sanctimonious pronouncers who say modern tailings dams do not fail. Let them explain away the difference between Indonesia and Alaska (Pebble Mine) in non-racialistic, not societal terms and let us judge.