Management of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) and water retaining dams is an integral part of our mining and processing activities. We recognise the potential risks that TSFs could present to our people, our communities, the environment and our business, and we are committed to their safe and responsible management.
We strive to manage our TSFs in a manner that maintains their structural integrity and stability, in line with regulatory requirements, applicable guidelines, standards and obligations. Our approach is consistent with the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Tailings Governance Framework and Position Statement on Preventing Catastrophic Failure of Tailings Storage Facilities, in addition to industry practices such as the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) guidelines. These requirements are embedded in South32’s internal Dam Management Standard.
Our internal Dam Management Standard applies across the company and sets out our approach to managing both tailings and water within the TSFs, as well as minimum requirements for how TSFs are designed, constructed and managed. The Standard provides the basis for the safe, long term impoundment of mine tailings and residues, and applies across all phases of the TSF life cycle; from initial planning and site location, through to design, construction, operation, monitoring, maintenance and eventually decommissioning, rehabilitation, post-closure monitoring and maintenance. Monitoring is an important part of our TSF management approach. We use real-time monitoring technology for dam instrumentation together with aerial drones and InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite technology to monitor the safe operation of our TSFs.
We recently reviewed and updated our Internal Dam Management Standard to align with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM). We are implementing the GISTM as part of our ICMM commitment and support its role in strengthening practices for the safe management of TSFs. As part of the implementation, our Chief Operating Officers and our Chief Development Officer have been appointed as Accountable Executives for tailings facilities at our operations and development projects.
As part of our GISTM implementation, we have developed a centralised global database for all South32 TSF information and established internal structures and reporting lines to support our tailings management system. This facilitates the sharing of knowledge and collaboration on TSF management across South32.
Our internal Dam Management Standard requires that tailings are deposited as ‘dense and dry as possible’ to increase their stability and safety. We achieve this by using several different tailings disposal techniques to remove water from, and compact, the tailings material. These techniques include dry stacking, amphirolling, water recycling and the permitted discharge of excess water.
We have 27 TSFs located across both our owned and operated sites and those that we operate on behalf of joint venture partners. Sixteen of these TSFs are active, 10 are inactive, and one is closed. Our joint venture partners operate 32 TSFs.
You can read more about our TSFS in the 2021 Directory of Tailings Storage Facilities which provides a directory of our TSFs across our sites, and the TSFs of our non-operated interests.
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