Articles tagged with: Environmental

Fluid Tailings – Time to Kick The Habit?

dry stack tailings
Smoking… we constantly hear about the negative effects of it.  We all know of people that have died due to lung cancer or other smoking related causes.  However we also know people that have smoked their entire lives yet lived into their eighties.  Yet there is still a push to get people to kick the smoking habit because statistically it is better for them.

Short term pain for long term gain.

Let’s compare all of that with the concept of fluid tailings storage.
Tailings. Those of us in the mining industry constantly hear about the negative impacts of tailings storage.  We know numerous mines have had failures resulting in fatalities and catastrophic damage. Check out the horrific example video below. It appears there are people walking or driving mid-way up the dam face.
We also know of many mines that have used fluid tailings their entire operating lives without any incidents.
The question for me has become whether the mining industry should kick the habit of fluid tailings storage even though no failures occurred in many circumstances?

Quitting isn’t easy

Quitting smoking takes real effort, some pain, maybe a change in lifestyle, but most importantly an overall commitment to quit.   It isn’t easy but pays off in the long run.
The same holds for tailings storage.
Moving away from fluid tailings storage requires real effort, some pain, a change in operating style, and a commitment to quit.  It won’t be easy but will pay off in the long run by avoiding major tailings incidents, less negative press, and fewer environmental permitting issues.  No longer will consultants and regulators be disputing factors of safety of 1.3 versus 1.5, when they could be discussing factors of safety of 5 versus 10.
Quitting fluid tailings storage may bring relief to stakeholders, shareholders, regulators, and mine management.  They’ll all sleep better at night knowing there isn’t a large mass of fluid being restrained simply by a dam at a factor of safety of 1.5.  Engineers say they can design dams that will be stable for perpetuity.  I tend to agree with that statement, however that is no guarantee for all tailings dams.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that no one wants to sit downwind of a smoker and no one wants to live downstream of a tailings dam.  Perhaps it is time for the mining industry to kick the habit of fluid tailings storage, regardless of the cost and discomfort. Short term pain for long term gain.
I have written another blog on the issue of tailings management risk “Tailings Disposal Method Risk“.
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Mining Takeovers – Should Governments Be (Heavily) Involved?

Mine acquisition
I have seen some on-line discussions about whether governments should be regulating corporate takeovers, some of which may be outside their own borders. The fear from some groups is that mine assets may be acquired by less than desirable acquirers.
One specific example that I have seen is related to the 2015 disposition of foreign resource assets by both Barrick and Ivanhoe to Zijin, a Chinese company.  I don’t know much about Zijin, other than having heard Norway’s government directed its $790 billion oil fund to sell holdings in some companies because of their environmental performance. Zijin was one of these companies.
In light of the Norway decision, some groups are questioning whether Zijin should be allowed to buy mining assets currently owned by Canadian or American companies.

Its a balancing act

It appears that some groups would like their governments to step in and prevent a company from selling their mining assets to another company that may have a poor reputation or limited financial capacity. The fear is the new company would operate in a non-sustainable manner and ignore local environmental rules.
Government sanctioning of deals gets tricky in that how do they define which companies have poor reputations and which don’t.  Also how can they dictate to the shareholders of a company, possibly nearing bankruptcy, that they cannot sell their assets to a certain interested party?
Governments have stepped in and blocked acquisitions in the past but these were mainly related to deals involving antitrust issues or technology of national interest.
It will be interesting to see whether the idea of governments sanctioning the acceptability of acquirers in the mining industry will gain traction.
It may be an overstep for the government of one country to block the acquisition of a foreign property when the owner may not have the capability to develop the project while the acquirer does.
The foreign government may want to see their own resources  developed but another government may be hindering that by blocking transfer of ownership.
The last thing we want are more country-to-country disputes. I presume the only option in this case is to revoke the mineral concessions and assign them to someone willing to develop them.  One company will lose an asset, which creates new issues related to compensation.  It also harms the reputation of that country as a place to invest in.  Unfortunately it had no choice if a foreign government was getting in the way.

Conclusion

The bottom line is whether the government of one country have the veto rights to prevent development in another country?  Does the government of one country have the right to decide the environmental standards in another via prevention of an asset sale?
This will be an interesting issue to continue to watch in the future.
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