Tailings are residues created during mining, refining, smelting and water treatment processes and are an inevitable by-product of gold mining. Tailing materials can consist of finely ground rock particles, chemicals required to extract gold as well as process effluents that are generated in a processing plant.
An unforeseen damage or leakage of a Tailing Storage Facility (TSF) can release potentially harmful materials into the environment. This is why ensuring the stability and safe operation of TSFs is of paramount importance to responsible mining.
Polyus’ comprehensive approach to tailings safety
At Polyus, we are committed to minimising the impact of our operations on the natural habitat and removing any environmental risks. Our TSFs are closely monitored and frequently inspected to ensure tailings are safely contained under any and all circumstances. To date, we have a clean track record of safety at our existing tailings dams with no hazardous tailings related incidents registered.
Prior to construction, a tailings project must undergo mandatory state environmental appraisal and approval by the Main Department for State Appraisals (Glavgosexpertiza) in accordance with Russian law. All of our TSFs have received the required permits and appraisal documentation by the Russian regulators and have additionally been certified by independent international expert organisations.
Polyus’ tailings facilities are always located in remote and inaccessible areas, with no proximity to people. They are also designed to minimise any contact with the environment to prevent any contamination to surface and groundwater systems.
We manage tailings storage facilities at six sites but operate a rigorous safety monitoring system at all our facilities, including five sites currently out of operation. As part of the monitoring process, we carry out internal and external industrial and environmental controls. Thorough inspections and audits of the safety usage are conducted at least once a year by the HSE&SD team. Responsibility for the monitoring of TSFs is also shared by state supervision services as well as independent consulting organisations.
The results of these inspections are then reported to the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia (Rostekhnadzor), as well as thoroughly analysed by the Company’s management. In the unlikely event of any shortcomings identified, immediate actions are taken by Polyus management to rectify them. In turn, the managers and specialists operating our tailing facilities are also regularly tested on their knowledge of tailings safety requirements during special trainings and assessments established by Rostekhnadzor.
Additionally, Polyus has developed its own internal documentation that establishes uniform approaches and requirements for the safe operation of tailings.
A call for industry standards
Following the tragic collapse of the Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil in January 2019, the investor community made a public call to establish a new publicly accessible and independent international standard for tailings dams. In April 2019 over 100 investors representing the Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, co-led by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish AP Funds Council of Ethics, requested for specific dam-by-dam disclosure to be made by more than 600 companies. Polyus welcomes and supports the initiative to increase the level of scrutiny on TSFs, and promptly responded to the investor group, providing comprehensive disclosure on all of the requested information.
A global review was also announced and co-convened by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). There is currently no consolidated global public register of TFSs whilst it has been estimated that there are approximately 18,000 TFSs worldwide.
As a member of ICMM, Polyus fully supports the ICMM Position Statement on Tailings Governance and operates in compliance with it alongside the relevant Russian legislative regulations on operation of tailings.
As a responsible miner we will continue support the development of regulation and standards that will reduce the global industry’s impact on the natural environment, whilst continually enhancing our own sustainability practices.