Question: How important is the integrity of a tailings dam to the successful operation of a mine?
Answer: Very important.
Tailings dam stability is so important that in some jurisdictions regulators may be requiring that mining companies have third party independent review boards or third party audits done on their tailings dams. The feeling is that, although a reputable consultant may be doing the dam design, there is still a need for some outside oversight.
Differences in interpretation, experience, or errors of omission are a possibility regardless of who does the design. Hence a second set of eyes can be beneficial.
Is the resource estimate important?
Next question is how important is the integrity of the resource and reserve estimate to the successful operation of a mine?
Answer: Very important. The mine life, project economics, and shareholder value all rely on it. So why aren’t a second set of eyes or third party audits very common?
NI 43-101 was the first step
In the years prior to 43-101, junior mining companies could produce their own resource estimates and disclose the results publicly. With the advent of NI 43-101, a second set of eyes was introduced whereby an independent QP could review the company’s internal resource and/or prepare their own estimate. Now the QP ultimately takes legal responsible for the estimate.
Nowadays most small companies do not develop their own in-house resource estimates. The task is generally awarded to an independent QP.
Resource estimation is a special skill
Possibly companies don’t prepare their own resource estimates due to the specialization needed in modelling and geostatistics. Maybe its due to the skills needed to operate block modeling software. Maybe the companies feel that doing their own internal resource estimate is a waste of time since an independent QP will be doing the work anyway.
The QP is the final answer..or is it?
Currently it seems the project resource estimate is prepared solely by the QP or a team of QP’s. In most cases this resource gets published without any other oversight. In other words no second set of eyes has taken a look at it. We assume the QP is a qualified expert, their judgement is without question, and their work is error free.
As we have seen, some resources estimates have been mishandled and disciplinary actions have been taken against QP’s. The conclusion is that not all QP’s are perfect.
Just because someone meets the requirements to be a Competent Person or a Qualified Person does not automatically mean they are competent or qualified. Geological modeling is not an exact science and will be based on their personal experience.
What is good practice?