This is What Happens When a Tailings Dam Fails (Video)

On August 4th, 2014, the tailings dam at Mount Polley, an open-pit gold and copper mine in British Columbia, Canada – failed. Seventeen million (17,000,000) cubic metres of water, and eight million (8,000,000) cubic metres of tailings were sent plunging into two nearby lakes. It was the largest-ever tailings dam failure in Canada, and a major wake-up call for the mining industry.

The breach was captured on an aerial camera – watch it unfold “live” here:

Recent reports found that the environmental impact from the dam failure at Mount Polley is likely to be less than originally anticipated, with no significant impact on the fishery or salmon runs. Nevertheless, the impacts on local communities and the economy have been significant.

Kinross has had industry-leading dam standards in place for a number of years, however the breach at Mount Polley is a dramatic reminder that we must always be vigilant and continually look for ways to raise the bar on how we manage tailings. That is why we are currently reviewing our tailings dam and water management standards, with the goal of upgrading them company-wide in 2015.

Nowhere is this more important than at Paracatu, where you can find Kinross’ biggest tailings ponds and largest dams.

Every year, Paracatu conducts a dams workshop that brings together environmental and construction leaders to discuss dam construction and security, dam operations, environmental monitoring, tailings pumping systems, legal requirements, water quality, our Emergency Action Plans, and more. This year’s event took place November 13th to 18th.

Dean Williams (Vice-President, Environmental Affairs) spoke to Kinross World about the critical importance of dam security and monitoring:

“Few people realize that around the globe, tailings dam failures happen more frequently – and have a much bigger impact – than water dam failures. If a tailings dam fails, it can be catastrophic for downstream communities, the environment, and for the companies involved. Recognizing this, here at Kinross we have set very high standards for the design, construction, operation, monitoring, and closure of tailings dams.  In addition to requiring each facility to be reviewed annually by the design engineer of record, we also have an external geotechnical engineer who conducts his own regular review. Our dam workshops – like the one at Paracatu in November – serve to reinforce the high standards we have for tailings dam design, construction and operations, the importance of monitoring, and ultimately the requirements for closure.”

Dam workshops and reviews happen regularly at every Kinross site that has a tailings dam. To learn more, please contact Dean Williams or John Mudge (Director, Environmental Affairs). 

Photos taken during the tailings dam workshop in November at Paracatu: