Blog Entry

Are Catastrophic Failures & Mining Spills Preventable?

Here's a set of key recommendations from various industry experts, practioners and analysts that believe catostrophic failures of mining waste facilities can be avoided if regulators take the following actions (NOT EXHAUSTIVE - additional comments welcome):


  1. Safety is the priority, not costs.
  2. Vet out financially risky mining projects likely to cut corners and unable to afford the safest measures.
  3. Immediately assess all existing mining wastes facilities and dams for potential failures and financial risk analysis.
  4. Maintain a detailed mining waste facilities and dams inventory database accessible to public.
  5. End self-inspection and regulatory capture: divide the compliance and enforcement programs from the promotion programs.
  6. End incremental permitting by governments; one integrated analysis, all at once.
  7. Enforce laws when they are violated.
  8. Respect inherent, constitutional and international Indigenous rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent.


  1. Require detailed bankable feasibility studies prior to Environmental Assessment and/or permitting, with detailed costs analysis of failures. 
  2. Require adequate securities paid up-front to safeguard taxpayers and communities for clean-up costs at closure and for perpetual care of site. 
  3. Establish a national or international insurance pool paid by the industry for catastrophic failures.
  4. Require proper reddress mechanisms for the environment and the victims of a failure.


  1. Ban dangerous mining waste facilities located upstream from communities and sensitive areas.
  2. Ban dangerous ‘upstream-type’ and cascading dams in favour of safer centreline (not modified-centreline) and downstream dams (better) to retain wastes (e.g. Chile) 
  3. Ban large water covers at closure (dry closure, with dry covers).
  4. Ban mining waste facilities requiring perpetual (or long-term) water treatment. 
  5. Ban subaqueous disposal of mining wastes into rivers, lakes or oceans.
  6. Ban clay foundation and slime deposits in or near dams' structures.
  7. Ban penstocks and pipes through tailings and dams.
  8. Require Best Available Technology (BAT), shifting away from conventional, wet slurry mining wastes disposal with water covers to safer, drier methods.
  9. Require integrated approaches to mining waste management, such as desulfurization, co-disposal, underground filling, in-pit filling, smaller mining waste cells restored quickly, etc.
  10. Require a qualified 'talings manager' and a 'water manager' on-site accountable to the regulator and the public.
  11. Require an Independent Engineer of Records accountable to the regulator and the public. 
  12. Require Independent Tailings Review Boards (ITRB) accountable to the regulator and the public.
  13. Require a 'security factor' of at least 1.5 for the mining waste facility operation.  
  14. Require dam slopes of at least 2 to 1 (2:1) or 3 to 1 (3:1), and possibly even flatter at closure or in high risk zones.
  15. Require dam design for a Probable Maximum Flood (PMF), particularly in the context of climate change and increased uncertainty 
  16. Require dam design for a Maximum Credible Earthquake (MCE), generally 1 in 10,000 years or more 
  17. Require detailed site characterization prior to design and construction (e.g. APEGBC Guidelines) 

United Nation Environment Programme Report (UNEP 2017)

Growing trends of serious and catastrophic mining waste failures worldwide (Bowker & Chambers 2016 & 2017):

DIAC Compilatio of Engineering Practice References for Dam Safety Best Practices (DIAC 2017):

Canadian Dam Association Safety Guidelines (CDA 2013, currently being reviewed, not yet released):  

Site Characterization for Dam Foundations of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC 2016): or

Tailings Management Protocol of the Mining Association of Canada (2017):

Recommendations from the Mount Polley Expert Review Panel (2015):

Recommendations from the BC Chief Inspector of Mines (2015):

Recommendations from the BC Auditor General (2016):

Recommendations from economist Robyn Allan on financial assurance for failures & spills (2016):

Recommendations from Jack A. Caldwell, Robertson Geoconsultants (2016):

Recommendations from Amnesty International Canada (2017):  

Root Causes of Tailings Dam Overtopping: The Economics of Risk & Consequence - Bowker and Chambers 2016 Table 2 – Known mining waste failures and spills above 1 million litres in Canada over the last decade 2008-2017 (not exhaustive) Summary: Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel Report on Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility Breach, January 30, 2015 Mount Polley Mine Tailings Storage Facility Breach - Investigation Report of the Chief Inspector of Mines, November 30, 2015 Summary: Auditor General of British Columbia | May 2016 | An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector Tailings Failures and How to Avoid Them - Jack A Caldwell, Robertson Geoconsultants, December 2016 UBCIC: Toward Financial Responsibility in British Columbia’s Mining Industry, May 2016 In the Dark Shadow of the Supercycle Tailings Failure Risk & Public Liability Reach All Time Highs - Lindsay Newland Bowker and David M. Chambers, 2017 Site Characterization for Dam Foundations in BC - APEGBC Professional Practice Guidelines V1.2 DIAC Engineering Practice References Index (March 2017 v1.1)