The keynote address at today’s Tailings and Mine Waste 2013 conference was delivered by A.G. Kupper of BGC Engineering. She made some amazing statements. I wonder if she is fully aware of the implications of what she said. To me the statement with most import is that before an oil sands tailings facility can be de-licensed as a dam, it must be turned into a landform that will respond to long-term forces as does the natural surrounding landscape. Until then the mine is on the hook.
Now this is entirely logical. But is it possible? Imagine: this means that all tailings will have to be dewatered and turned into a solid of similar erosion resistance as the soils in the natural landforms that surround the mines. That is not possible—certainly unlikely to occur in the conceivable future.
Then she proposed a risk assessment approach which was promptly criticised by Franco Oboni as deceptive of the public. I cannot see why we would need a risk assessment if the tailings facility is now a natural landscape performing as the surrounding lands. Or is the risk assessment a cop-out the will enable us to avoid the inevitable logic of her landscape dictate?
Maybe it all more subtle than her talk indicated. Her paper written along with a slew of great names in the industry says we can get the full report on their thinking and recommendations at www.osrin.ualberta.ca. This report is the outcome of deliberations stretching back to 2009 by industry representatives. No word yet on what the regulators think.
I will soon to the report and a detailed study thereof. In the meantime I would like you opinion.
Here is just one but from the paper that illustrates what she said in harsher terms in her talk:
When sufficient measures have been implemented to meet the de-licensing criteria, the former tailings dam would become a solid mine waste structure that would qualify to be de-licensed as a dam. During the de-licensing process, a tailings facility transitions from a licensed dam to a de-licensed structure. During the process, it is necessary to demonstrate that the transition of a tailings facility into a solid mine waste facility has achieved its objectives, that the resulting facility no longer meets the definition of a dam and now poses only residual risks that are compatible with the risk level of the natural surrounding environment and hence it would qualify for a formal process of de-licensing as a dam.
All kind of muddled; but the intent is clear. Maybe they should have got a qualified lawyer to help them write what is in essence a new legal document.