PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Mining giant BHP Billiton has brought forward the next review of all its tailings dams following the disaster at the Samarco joint venture (JV) in Brazil, chairperson Jac Nasser said on Thursday.
Speaking at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Perth, he also vowed to get to the bottom of what caused one of Samarco’s three tailings dams to fail on November 5, resulting in a significant release of mine tailings, flooding local communities. The accident had left 11 people dead, eight people missing and displaced about 600 people.
Nasser told shareholders that the reasons for the failure of the dam were still being investigated. He also reported that work to reinforce the dam structure and stabilise the area had started, with the JV partners working with external experts to develop a plan to address environmental issues arising from the incident.
“I commit to you that we will find out what went wrong. Together with Vale, we have agreed to commission an external investigation into the collapse of the tailings dam. It will be some time before this investigation concludes, but when it does, you have my commitment that we will publicly release the findings.”
Nasser said that the results of the report would also be shared with other resource companies.
A dedicated team had been created within BHP to support Samarco as it responded to the ongoing human, environmental and operational effects, and the company had also employed specialist emergency response and disaster relief teams to advise Samarco.
Meanwhile, the JV partners have set aside $260-million as an emergency fund to assist the community members affected by the spill.
A preliminary agreement with Brazilian prosecutors in Minas Gerais would guarantee that the funding would be used for a range of emergency measures related to prevention, mitigation, remediation, and compensation for environmental and social effects of the incident.
Nasser told shareholders that the funding agreed to was only a preliminary number, and would likely increase as the extent of the damage was better understood.
“The fund that was agreed to recently is an early preliminary fund; that was the whole purpose - to get it out quickly rather than wait and determine what the long term recovery action would be.”
“It is a major tragedy, and one that will have, and has had, an environmental impact throughout the basin. The immediate focus we’ve had, and Samarco and Vale have had, is ensuring the safety of the workforce and affected communities.”
CEO Andrew Mackenzie said on the sidelines of the AGM that despite the work that needed to be done in Brazil, BHP was committed to continue with the JV.
“We have been at Samarco for 30 years, and it’s been a good business for us. We are very much committed to the long term, so the question of abandoning the operation hasn’t even crossed my mind,” Mackenzie said in response to questions.
“Don’t doubt that we are absolutely committed to what we reasonably think is right, irrespective of what else plays out, to reconstruct the communities and to do the same thing by way of the environment.”
The Samarco operations have the capacity to produce 30.5-million tons a year of iron-ore pellets and to process 32-million tons a year of concentrate. In the 2015 financial year, BHP’s share of production was 14.5-million tons and the contribution from Samarco was about 3% of the BHP Billiton group’s underlying earnings before interest and tax.