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.