Home > Blogs > Tailings Storage Facility Management: Best Practices for ESG Compliance

Following our first piece on enabling mines to support Environment Social & corporate Governance (ESG) issues, we will now focus on one area of operations that has garnered recent attention from the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM): Tailings Storage Facilities (TSF). 

TSFs offer a unique set of risks that touch on all areas of ESG and require heightened and disciplined management processes. Made up of multiple dams storing discarded ore and chemical solvents, often in close proximity to local communities, it’s obvious why the risk is inherent. Thus, the proper management of a mine’s TSF becomes a critical facet to ESG considerations, as recognised by the ICMM. 

Why is proper TSF management so challenging? Well, keeping tabs on the stability of tailings dam walls and slopes, as well as the level and behaviour of water, slimes, and other materials, becomes quite complex. The dams within the facility increase in size over time as the mine is worked. More and more material enters, and although water is constantly evaporating or draining, the solid and semi-solid material inside the facilities remain, and build up over the years. It’s difficult to monitor a moving target, and maintaining dam integrity requires ongoing focus on appropriate engineering design, quality construction, operating discipline and effective governance with independent reviews. 

Key factors that influence TSF integrity include assessment and monitoring of site conditions such as: 

  • seismicity
  • climate
  • geology
  • hydrology
  • tailings characteristics
  • quality assurance and quality control of dam construction
  • ongoing dam operating discipline management 
  • tailings characteristics
  • water management

So how does a mine monitor and manage all of these critical areas? 

With a trusted advisor who understands all of these elements, and knows how to resolve them. 

For our team to assess a TSF compliance plan, we collaborate closely with the mine site to determine the extent and types of instrumentation that is most suitable to their conditions, for example:

  • Geotechnical and rock movement monitoring instruments to measure the behaviour of the dam wall and slopes, 
  • Piezometers, georesistivity monitoring, and other types of hydrology sensors, to measure fluid levels, movement and behaviour,
  • Water quality sensors to maintain an understanding of the risk factors related to the contents of the facility,
  • Fibre sensing technology, to complement the geotechnical and hydrology sensors depending on the risk of seismic activity and water movement,
  • Satellite monitoring (InSAR) and/or drone technology for mapping ground deformation.

All of these monitoring methodologies deliver large amounts of relevant, accurate data, but key to this is that the data must be easily accessible and offer effective visualisation tools. So going beyond the monitoring, an effective communication network is key.

No longer is it suitable for a mine to take things into their own hands. The ICMM has published TSF requirements in the Global Industry Standards on Tailings Management (GISTM), that requires compliance in 6 areas..

GISTM requires that a mine’s tailing operation must address the following topics in order to be compliant:

  • The project must focus on the potential to affect people;
  • Operators must be trained in social, environmental and local economic context of a proposed or existing tailings facility;
  • Must prove elevated design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, and proper closing plan for tailings facilities;
  • Focus on the ongoing management and governance of a tailings facility;
  • Covers emergency preparedness and response in the event of a tailings facility failure;
  • Requires public disclosure of information about tailings facilities to support public accountability.

Importantly, all tailings facilities operated by members with ‘Extreme’ or ‘Very high’ potential consequences must be in conformance with the Standard by 5th August 2023 – a mere 14 months away.  Membership of ICMM includes the largest global miners, and GISTM provides miners around the world with clear guidelines and a (non-binding) deadline to achieve them.

The GISTM will be used as a global standard to which investors, governments and grassroots organisations will hold any operation that sits within their sphere of interest.  With 14 months to prepare, there isn’t much time with which to undertake a study, consider the results and implement solutions to bring your operation into conformity.

Investigating, developing, designing and deploying a holistic TSF monitoring program draws from numerous disciplines; all of which need to be brought together onto a single platform from which to monitor and manage an integral part of an operation.  No one technology manufacturer can do this, it can only be found within the unique role of a trusted advisor – a company like Ramjack. As a systems integrator focused on the mining industry, Ramjack is dedicated to helping mines discover the best way to create value in their operations, using the systems they have, and integrating best-of-breed technologies to meet their challenges.

Ramjack is qualified to assist your operation with GISTM compliance, regardless of the location or environment.  Our focus is in understanding the local challenges, and your unique operation, to provide solutions that address local issues and risks. Check out this recent article about early warning systems to help manage your TSF, and reach out to our team today to see how we can help your mine with GISTM compliance.