Dust Control & Environment, Mining and Heavy Industries, Staffing, Recruitment & Training

BHP checking dams as Brazil alleges negligence

A pair of tailings dams at the Samarco mine breached last week and caused a major mudslide in the Bento Rodrigues community below. Photo: Google

BHP Billiton is reportedly checking tailings dams across its operations in the wake of the disaster last week at its Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil.

Brazilian officials estimate four people are dead and another 22 are still missing, after a pair of tailings dams at the Samarco mine – co-owned by BHP and Vale – breached and caused a major mudslide in the Bento Rodrigues community below.

“The Samarco operations include a three tiered tailings dam complex,” BHP outlined to the ASX on Monday. “Within this complex, the Fundão dam failed and the downstream Santarém dam has been affected. This resulted in a significant release of mine tailings…

“At this time, there is no confirmation of the causes of the tailings release.”

A company spokesperson was quoted in several sources saying BHP was checking its other dams at its operations around the globe. “As a result of this incident we are further checking the tailings dams across our sites.

“It is important to note that BHP Billiton tailings dams are operated, monitored and assessed to manage material risks and the majority are governed by regulatory requirements, which can vary between states.

“Our existing processes include risk reviews and audits, which are done at regular intervals.”

Reports estimate the incident could cost BHP and Vale more than $1bn, but allegations raised by Brazilian officials could have even more significant ramifications.

According to an Associate Press report out of Sao Paulo, the state environmental prosecutor has alleged negligence and human error likely caused the tailings dams to burst.

Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto, the state environmental prosecutor for Minas Gerais, says he suggested in 2013 the Samarco facility should not have its licence renewed, as the facility presented risks of destabilisation and erosion.

“What happened was a mistake in the operation and negligence in the monitoring,” Pinto alleged on major television station, Globo TV, after the incident.

BHP said on Monday one of the mine workers was killed by the event, and a further 13 members of its workforce were missing.

Chief executive Andrew Mackenzie will visit Brazil this week, BHP said, “to understand first-hand the human, environmental and operational impacts of the incident”.

“Our first priority is to assist Samarco [the operating company owned by BHP and Vale] in safely and effectively responding to this terrible tragedy,” Mackenzie said on Sunday. “BHP Billiton employees have been deeply affected by this tragic event and Samarco has our full support as it continues with the response effort.”

BHP chairman Jac Nasser added: “Words cannot describe the impact of this tragedy on the employees and contractors of Samarco, their families and the community. Our thoughts are with the people of Samarco, the affected community and with the people of Brazil.”

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend