Student Journal - The Southern Queensland Student Chapter at the Mine Waste and Tailings Conference 2023
I am extremely grateful to both AusIMM and BHP for providing me with the opportunity to attend the 2023 Mine Waste and Tailings Conference, which was held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 13th to the 14th of July.
Having very little exposure to the world of mine waste and tailings management, this event provided me a prime opportunity to learn the ins and outs of how the industry regulates, sustains and promotes safe and responsible practices within Australia and across the globe.
My favourite talk has to have been 'Some Geotechnical Fundamentals of Tailings Facility Design', presented by UQ geotechnical engineering professor Dr. David Williams. I found this talk particularly insightful, as it laid out the geotechnical foundation of tailings dams and related this theory it to what constitutes as unsatisfactory, satisfactory and superb dam design.
Additionally, it also covered the mechanisms which cause dam liquefaction and asked the difficult questions; “what is dry enough to be safe from liquifying”. I was able to relate the info presented to my own studies of soil and rock mechanics and even experiences on-site, having seen tailings dams and understood the consistency of the material which is held within them.
The panel which occurred immediately following this talk was also very interesting and introduced me to the many standards for mine waste and tailings management. This panel, appropriately titled: What governs? – GISTM, TSM, ICOLD, ANCOLD or CDA, contrasted the multiple criteria laid out in each respective standard and asked how a modern resources company should navigate the space. The general consensus I perceived from the discussion was that anyone looking to apply the best standard to their operation should start at recommendations made in Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), and then work through the other documents after. Through this presentation, I was also alerted to the fact that the GISTM was published by The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), a body I had previously heard about however was unaware of the full extent of work they do to govern mining operations.
In some ways, we were given a possible solution to this panel question in one of the final presentations in the second B session of day 1. Here we heard from Mr Fabricio da Silva, a governance specialist for Vale who presented to talk titled 'Vale’s roadmap for the future – integrating multiple tailings compliance frameworks'. In his presentation he detailed Vale’s approach for dealing with the multiple tailings governance frameworks of GISTM, TSM, ICOLD, ANCOLD and CDA in order to achieve multi-standard compliance.
As explained by Mr Fabricio, the process of reviewing and assessing an operation against all frameworks individually, alongside jurisdiction legal requirements is not only labour but also time intensive. This approach makes even less sense when it is realised that the frameworks are very similar in criteria - which would lead to essentially the same regulations will be repeatedly checked. Vale’s solution, in collaboration with Forwood Safety is to systematically merge the similar requirements within multiple frameworks into one comprehensive integrated verification process. This allows for streamline assessment of their operation, satisfying multiple standards while avoiding repeated evaluation. I believe that this is not only a more convenient, but also comprehensive solution and would ensure that operations meet all important standards for their tailings management.
Aside from the presentations throughout the conference, I also gained a lot of value when networking with industry professionals both at trade displays and during the multiple networking functions. I was particularly grateful to hear from representatives of the Malvern Panalytical display, who explained to me the workings of their X-ray machines. These instruments are able to provide very detailed component analyses of mine samples, such as tailings or concentrate products through the use of X-ray crystallography and X-ray fluorescence. Further to this, I was amazed to hear that some of these machines do not consume samples and so are useful for continuous analysis of material travelling on production lines.
In conclusion, being able to attend this year’s Mine Waste and Tailings Conference not only expanded my knowledge of the current and future technologies being used in the tailings space, but also allowed me to grow my professional network and further develop my networking skills. I found the experience extremely enjoyable and one which has greatly benefitted my journey within the resources industry. In this way I am incredibly grateful to both AusIMM and BHP for providing me the opportunity to attend, and look forward to experiencing further conferences throughout the year.
AusIMM was pleased to partner with BHP to enable the attendance of some of the future talent in the resources sector.