Transforming Tailings Management Systems toward Alignment with the GISTM: A Case History

Transforming Tailings Management Systems toward Alignment with the GISTM: A Case History

Authors: Edwin Ruiz, Heather Halderman, Paul Ridlen
Conference: Tailings and Mine Waste 2022
Date: November 6-9, 2022


The publication of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM) in August 2020, and supporting documentation from the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) in May 2021, have had a profound impact on the mining industry. Mine operators around the world are striving to improve their governance, engineering, and operational practices for tailings management to align with the aspirational goals of the GISTM.

Even with the benefit of the ICMM Tailings Management Good Practices Guide and Conformance Protocols, Mining Association of Canada (MAC) with Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Tailings and Operation, Maintenance, and Surveillance (OMS) guides, as well as existing Technical Guidelines from long-standing dam safety organizations such as the Canadian Dam Association (CDA), International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), and Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD), the development of a robust Tailings Management System (TMS) to manage large portfolios of existing structures has presented some challenges for Operators. As the industry moves in the direction of risk-informed approaches to planning, designing, constructing, operating, and closing tailings facilities, Operators need to update their existing management systems and develop specific policies and practices to reflect the step-change presented by the GISTM and facilitate the completion of objectives at a facility level. However, a TMS that is too prescriptive in its implementation of the new guidance may impose artificial restrictions to the process of continual improvement, turning into a mere exercise of “checking boxes.”

Industrias Peñoles and Fresnillo PLC (from here on “The Group”) and their subsidiaries currently own forty (40) tailings storage facilities at their Mexico mining operations, most of which have been in operation for several decades. In 2019, The Group launched a corporate initiative focused on reviewing and improving their tailings governance, engineering, and operational practices, and associated with Knight Piésold in 2021 to develop their TMS. Although not a member of ICMM and MAC, The Group aspires to achieve the best practices and technologies that lead towards alignment with International Standards.

This paper presents the case history of The Group’s TMS first phase of development, which comprises establishing clear, achievable objectives; striving to align with best available/applicable practices and technologies, which will later lead to alignment with recognized International Standards; creating mechanisms to measure compliance with existing and developing Technical Guidelines; and setting a clear roadmap to address gaps that may be identified. The significance of this process cannot be understated in the context of a dynamic industry that is pushing for a culture of change towards zero harm, while also balancing the established technical aspects that govern tailings dam safety.


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