International tailings failures and best available technology Boswell, Jeremy; Sobkowicz, John
Recent events in western Canada within the last year have focused our attention as geotechnical engineers within the mining industry: • A plunging oil price against a backdrop of already depressed mining commodity prices has applied pressure to the process of tailings and geotechnical design. • We witnessed one of the largest tailings failures worldwide ever (in terms of volume), after which the Expert Panel who were appointed to investigate the failure concluded that the “dominant contribution to the failure resides in the design.” This is perhaps an important time for us to pause and reflect on our work in tailings engineering, with a somewhat broader international perspective, and to ponder a few questions: 1. What were some of the salient tailings failures around the world over the past 50 years? 2. What are the leading mechanisms of failure for tailings facilities? 3. In response to the call for the adoption of Best Available Technology, how do we define Best Available Technology (BAT) for the tailings industry? 4. What foundational principles might point us to BAT? 5. What tailings technologies should we be considering more closely, and how could these technologies be applied to reduce our exposure to risk? 6. What changes could be made to introduce and advance best available technology in all aspects of tailings engineering? In this paper the authors offer their insights in reply to the questions posed above.
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