Here is how one source describes the spill:
About 100 employees and contractors working for Sherritt [International Mine] are at the site trying to determine how a wall in the containment pond was breached, propelling a plume of clay, coal dust, dirt, sandstone and shale through two creeks and into the Athabasca River. The company couldn’t say Monday when the walls were last inspected.
The sediment is on its way down the river to Fort McMurray which draws its drinking water from the river. The officials say there is no risk but have, as a precaution, warned people not to drink the water of let animals drink either.
Meanwhile the report notes another spill:
Much farther east, the Alberta Newsprint Company’s mill in Whitecourt, the only paper mill in Alberta, was shut down by the spill over the weekend, but was back in operation early Monday.
“It’s just one of those things,” Woodlands County Mayor Jim Rennie said. “It’s unfortunate, but I think it is being handled as best as it can be.”
Maybe this is just the statistics of risk. Consider these numbers from the report:
The Alberta Energy Regulator said Monday no similar incidents involving coal mine containment facilities has occurred within the past five years in the province. There are four coal processing plants in Alberta, with seven containment and recycling facilities.
Or maybe as the mayor says, it is just one of those things.
Nobody seems to know when the facility that failed was last inspected, although in most jurisdictions an annual inspection is required. If one was done, the report should be a public document. Maybe some enterprising journalist can track it down for us.
By now we have three such failures in Canada in 2013. Here is how the third was reported:
Aurizon Mines Ltd. reports that during a routine evening inspection of the tailing ponds on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at the Casa Berardi Mine, located approximately 95 kilometres north of the town of La Sarre, in the Abitibi region of northwestern Quebec, it was discovered that there was a breach of an internal tailings dyke which resulted in a surge of liquids and suspended solids over the external tailings dyke. A majority of the material was contained inside the tailings pond containment area and no further discharges into the environment have occurred. The Casa Berardi Mine has four tailings containment ponds and the material flowed from one tailings pond into another tailings pond, neither of which are in use for current operations.
It cannot be that such failures are occurring only in Canada. I suspect that they are occurring elsewhere too, but we just do not get word of them as a result of limited press. If this conjecture is true, then the actual rate of failure of mine tailings facilities is much higher than the official figures. Time to count & calculate again I suggest.
True the three failures noted are but small and not of great newsworthiness. But they do remind us of the perils of managing tailings facilities and the ease with which failures occur. Maybe due to inattention; maybe failure to inspect; maybe poor management; or maybe just statistics. I bet the operators ascribe failure to Black Swans.
I found this one the HuffingtonPost;
Operation at the mine was suspended last year, due to what’s believed to be overwhelming economic and market pressures, and is currently undergoing reclamation.
Maybe they were just too busy with closure to notice facilities that were open.