"People are starting to take a long term approach in their thinking. For example, they have 10 years capacity left on their existing tailing facility and want to know what their options are moving forward – do I go to a new facility, or do I raise the dam of the existing facility."
How was 2020 for Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB) in South America?
Surprisingly, 2020 was one of KCB’s most active years ever, and we surpassed our plans and budgets that were made pre-Covid. We were in that weird position where nobody likes to turn away work, but we had to be truly selective as we could not accommodate all the requests. We have been actively hiring, but the market is competitive, thus making it difficult to find quality talent. However, we have been able to find new staff.
Because of the work KCB did in response to the recent high-profile dam failures, our profile in Brazil has expanded significantly and we have received more work, including dam break studies and risk reviews and assessments. A lot of Brazil’s dams have been there for decades and it is the first time somebody is starting to look at it from a risk perspective.
In August 2020, the Global Tailings Standard was launched. What did you think of the document, and do you think it has improved the state of tailings management?
The launch of the Global Tailings Standard was great for the industry and for KCB as well. The company is considered at the top end of tailings engineering consultancies and the standard has raised our profile, as we have always been an advocate for tailings design and management stewardship. The document overall is good, and what the industry needed to head in the right direction. There are always going to be companies that take more risks than others, but the majority of companies, especially the multinationals, are taking tailings more seriously with a more conservative approach.
What type of tailings projects has KCB been working on in South America, and what are clients currently asking for?
Although there are some large construction projects underway, the bulk of KCB South America’s projects are tailings related, including seismic hazard assessment updates, site selection studies for new facilities, tailings technology trade-off studies, and dam raise designs. People are starting to take a long term approach in their thinking. For example, they have 10 years capacity left on their existing facility and want to know what their options are moving forward – do I go to a new facility, or do I raise the dam of the existing facility. Thoughts are also moving more towards lowering risks profiles – instead of having one massive structure with an extreme consequence classification, analyzing the impact of a couple of smaller structures with lesser classifications, or changing tailings technologies to thickened or filtered tailings, for example, to reduce risk.
KCB has been working with the full range of clients between juniors, intermediates and majors. Hochschild has been a client of ours for years and we continue to do a significant amount of work for them, both on new facilities and closures. When a new client approaches us, we look at their policies and standards to establish if we can set up a working relationship.
What are the benefits of dry tailings deposits compared to the traditional subaqueous deposition method?
Traditional tailings is a slurry, and there are a significant number of considerations – seepage, filtration, spillways, excessive storm events, etc. are all potential risks that need to be managed. There is definitely less risk with a dry stack facility. For example, runout, if it were to occur, is going to be significantly less with a dry stack deposit, obviously depending on the size and profile of the facility, but up to a couple kilometers as compared to the 100+ km potential of a conventional tailings facility. Although the capex is usually higher, the risk profile of a dry stack deposit is significantly lower.
When is the best time for companies to consider tailings issues?
The best time to consider tailings is before the mine is built. If you have a mine with dozens of years of useful life, you really need a roadmap for the future. It will be beneficial to have a long term planning group looking at various scenarios which can then be analyzed from various perspectives – technical, financial, and social. In planning ahead, you can do a multiple accounts analysis of what your options are and have a significantly better plan and idea moving forward so that you do not have to make snap decisions. With advancements in technology, companies can improve not only design standards and criteria, but also take into consideration closure scenarios way before they get to that point. Considering all scenarios in advance enables you to select the best option and you are not forced into picking a less optimal alternative.