Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category


Many, many years ago I was in Sitka for a conference on Marine Tailings Disposal.  The proceedings were published in a book edited by D.V. Ellis.  You can get a copy from amazon.com for $4.00.  My copy is in the attic of the house in Huntington Beach.  Bet none of the kids will ever read the paper therein that I wrote with John Welsh.

Recently one of the many who communicate with me via private email sent me a remarkable document.  It is the DSTP Initiative: 2014 Knowledge Workshop Report dated May 2014.   Keep in mind DSTP stands for Deep Sea Tailings Placement.

I have not been able to find a link to it on Google–if you do please let us know.  Any rate I have a copy and will send it to you if you email me your request at jcaldwell@infomine.com.

The document is dense with information and I have no intention of summarizing it or commenting on it–too controversial a topic right now.   Nevertheless, here is the introductory text from the volume.

The competition for land use in the central region of Chile is a national issue. The Central region is the most densely populated region of Chile and the land is ideal for a range of agricultural activities. The Central region also has abundant copper deposits and copper production presents another source of competition for land use. Copper production is an important driver of economic prosperity and has helped to make Chile’s economy one of the strongest and most robust of Latin America. However, copper production in the central region will soon be limited by the availability of land for tailing disposal. Copper mines in the central region currently dispose of their tailings in land based tailings dams. As current tailings dams reach their capacity, additional disposal capacity will have to be developed either through the construction of additional dams on land currently used for agricultural purposes or the development of alternative disposal methods. The combination of land scarcity and the need for additional disposal capacity present a significant challenge for the mining industry and, given the economic importance of both agricultural production and copper production, Chile as a nation.

Mining companies in the central region have recognized this challenge and been searching for alternatives to land-based disposal. A viable alternative would alleviate the land-use issue and enable the continued development of the copper industry in the country. The mining companies recently formed an independent Consortium to carry out an impartial evaluation of Deep Sea Tailing Placement (DSTP), an alternative method of disposal that is currently being used in other countries.

Chile and the mining industry will only use DSTP if it can be shown to be viable from human health, social and environmental perspectives. However, the current scientific and technical knowledge about DSTP is not sufficient to make such a determination. The Consortium will manage and oversee a comprehensive research program to close the gaps in the current knowledge. In addition, the Consortium will design and implement a plan for involving and engaging with stakeholders. The DSTP Initiative represents a different approach to determining the direction of the mining industry. Rather than treating the evaluation as a unilateral business decision, it is being carried out in a spirit of openness and collaboration. The Consortium will foster a collaborative effort with industry, government, communities, environmental NGOs, academia, and other key stakeholders in order to make an informed decision about DSTP.

As part of this new approach, the Consortium sponsored a Knowledge Workshop that brought together a wide range of stakeholders. The purpose of the workshop was to generate guidance and input to help the Consortium map out a path forward.

This document presents the results of that workshop. Chapters V through VIII focus on different areas of guidance developed at the workshop.

At this link is an evaluation of DSTP in Papua New Guinea.  Interesting reading.

Then there is the book Undersea Tailings Placement at Island Copper Mine: A Success Story.  Certainly makes you think.

MiningWatch disputes the conclusions at this link.  They note use of marine tailings disposal at these places:

  • In Chile at the Huasco Iron Pelletising Plant operated by Compania Minera del Pacifico
  • In Indonesia at Minahasa Raya and Batu Hijau mines both operated by Newmont Corporation
  • In Turkey at the Cayeli Bakir Mine operated by Inmet Mining
  • In Papua New Guinea at the Lihir Mine operated by Lihir Management Company and Rio Tinto
  • In Papua New Guinea at the Misima Mine operated by Placer Dome
  • In England at the Boulby Potash Mine operated by Cleveland Potash
  • In the Philippines at the Atlas Mine operated by Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation

Obviously all controversial and not about to go away.  But I am in a good mood today, so why start another blogging controversy other than to say that in the goodness of time, all tailings will land there eventually.



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Just home from a four-week journey that took me to  Peru, Chile, Keystone CO, Banff, and Ekati NWT.  It is good to be back in the house where you can throw off the formalities of travel, eat simple food, and get drunk in private. They say that Peruvian food is the best in the world.  Indeed it is if you are in a fancy, expensive place in Lima.  But go to a mine and eat what the miners eat, and it is terrible beyond belief.  Rice & beans and other unrecognizable substances of gooey texture.  I lost weight.  Maybe it was the altitude = 14,500 ft.  You walk slow and breathe deep in those conditions. (more…)

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A little bit more on the failure of that tailings facility in Brazil from some-one on the ground:

The accident was in a very small mine close to Belo. It was an old tailings dam that was not  supposed to be in operation anymore. But they decide to pile dried tailings on top of it. I don’t have technical details about the failure but I guess it is very similar to a previous one I took you to see. At the moment of the failure, equipment was working at the same point. That’s the reason for the deaths. It is going to take some time for us to get the conclusions about the real cause of the accident. But, as soon as I get some more information I will let you know.

Thanks to this fellow for letting us know.

Here is another comment from someone in Brazil:

The Minas Gerais dam failure is worst because of dead people (3), which means that there is environmental process and also criminal. The problem I see from the two failures is that we still don´t know the causes. In Canada the cause seems to be overtopping or seepage thru the embankment (high pore pressures or piping); in Brazil it seems to have occurred static liquefaction, and the triggering cause possibly excavation of the outer slopes. But we haven´t seen any word about the causes. It is just my guess. In Canada the pictures we saw doesn´t show a good appearance of the dykes. It resembles coarse and loose material, not prepared to have any contact with water. In Brazil it was an old tailings dam, upstream construction, that was being used as a platform for the operation of settling ponds (we call it here “baias”), where the coarse settles and are removed by shovels and transported to piles, and the fines have the same destiny, but need more time to drain and do dry.

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Just got news of the failure of a tailings facility in Brazil.  I can find no English versions of the news.  There are many reports in Portuguese, and you can get them translated via Google.  They provide little information about the engineering causes or consequences, other than that at least three and possibly as many as ten are dead. (more…)

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While we in BC have been preoccupied by the Mt Polley situation, yet another tailings failure has occurred.  This time in Mexico.  That brings the number of failures this year to three:  Duke Energy, Mt Polley, and Cananea.  Just the right number if the probability of failure is one in five thousand. (more…)

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I am told that yesterday’s posting was hard to read.  So rather than write tonight, let me simply post some pictures I took from a public road of tailings facilities closed by the Peruvian regulators.  Not sure how long the gabion baskets will last.







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Words cannot capture a day of intense impressions.  Yet let me try. Go east of Lima into the hills (as I did today) and see this:

  • Tailings clinging to the steep hills in defiance of gravity.
  • A mine closed by the government to perfection.  They know what they are doing!
  • Filter-pressed tailings transported fifty kilometers up 1000 m elevation to a new disposal site — economically?


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