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Home / Business / Minnesota & # 39; s Iron Range Like Mine Miners. A deadly Brazil disaster gives it pause.

Minnesota & # 39; s Iron Range Like Mine Miners. A deadly Brazil disaster gives it pause.



EMBARRASS, Minn. – A soil pond is set to rise behind the trees

Dan Ehmans

120 woodlands in northeastern Minnesota's Iron Range, a region closely related to mining for more than a century.

The planned dam, designed to hold back hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste, will be similar in structure and height – 250 meters above Ehman's hundred-year-old log cabin – to one in Brazil that burst in January and killed 270 in a tsunami of sludge .

This disaster, the deadliest of its kind in half a century, has upset the global mining industry. The world's largest mining giants have spent months and millions of dollars evaluating their dams. Institutional investors are scrubbing their portfolios, looking for companies with risky structures ̵

1; and helping to publish potential stability problems. And environmentalists are getting new support from residents, some of whom are learning for the first time about the potential dangers of dams in communities.

The United States is still one of the countries where the dam type used in the Brazil disaster, known as an upstream design, is still being built. They are effectively banned in parts of Canada, in many situations in the EU and now, in Brazil itself. The planned dam outside Embarrass uses the design. Last month, a court suspended permits for the mine until the developer clarifies how it has assessed the Brazil disaster.

"We do not allow dams in the United States as countries in the developing world do not accept," he said

Steve Emerman,

the owner of Utah-based mining and groundwater consultants Malach Consulting.

A view of the existing tailing pond near Embarrass. A planned expansion will almost double the lady's capacity to keep waste from a new copper and nickel mine.


Photo:

Stephen Maturen for The Wall Street Journal

In the disaster in Brazil, a dam with tons of iron ore screens near the city of Brumadinho crumbled, sending water, rock and mud flooding over a square mile. Inspectors had for months been concerned about the lady's integrity.

Upstream design ponds are built up with cut-offs in stairs. The design is one of the simplest and least expensive. Critics say it is also one of the most dangerous. Unlike some other mining nations, the United States does not have an available database of upstream dams, although experts estimate there are more than 500.

The Army Corps of Engineers monitors some, but not all, of the United States Waste Dams. 1,300 tailor ponds of all designs, and about a quarter of these are classified as having a "high" or more severe hazard potential, meaning a failure can lead to loss of life.

Where the Dams —And Risks – are

Some states have both a large number of cutoff dams and a large number of dams classified as having a high or more severe * hazard potential, which means a failure can cause loss of human life. [19659013] Number of cuts

dams in condition †

Proportion of dams with high

or more severe hazard potential

Largest number of waste fumes: 408, with 2.5% with high or more severe hazard potential

Number of tailings

dams in state †

Percentage of dams with high

or more severe hazard potential

Largest number of tailings dams: 408, with 2.5% with higher or more severe hazard potential

Number of cuts

dams in condition †

Proportion of dams with high

or more severe hazard potential

Major number of waste fumes: 408, with 2.5% with high or more severe hazard potential

Number of cuts

ponds in condition †

Percentage of ponds with high

or more serious danger potential [19659032] Major st number of deposit ponds: 408, with 2.5% with high or more serious hazard potential

In response to the disaster in Brazil, a group of large institutional investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked major miners to reveal details of their mines globally – l throwing away potential hazards they posed and whether they had ever experienced any stability problems.

At US and Canadian mines run by 34 companies that released information, about 11% of the approximately 560 cut-off ladies reported stability problems. According to company filings, 8% did not have complete engineering protocols, the plans that experts say are necessary to ensure a proper audit of their security.

In the United States alone, stability problems were reported for 18 ponds, and 14 of these were classified as having "high" or more severe hazard potential. Of the 18 that reported stability problems, 16 were upstream dams and one was a partial upstream dam.

Video from an on-site camera captured the collapse of the discharge pond in Brumadinho, Brazil, in January. Photo: AP / Globo TV

Tailor dams have raised concerns for several years. A video overview of risks around tailor ponds first published in 2016. Photo: João Pina for The Wall Street Journal

Vale SA,

driving the failed Brumadinho Dam revealed stability problems at a complex of six of the Dems near the city of Thompson, in the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Niki Ashton,

A Canadian lawmaker representing the area said when she learned about the disclosure, she asked local officials if any of them had been told anything by Vale. No one had, she said.

"We were all shaken up by Brumadinho," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Manitoba government said the provincial regulator, who inspects the dams, had not been informed of stability problems. The regulator conducted an inspection in August and saw no impending risk, she said.

The disclosures were the first warning to many residents that they lived near structures with problems.

Hilda Fitzner,

who lives in Thompson, she said she heard about a friend's stability problems

Facebook

mail. "It caught me off guard," she said.

Share Your Thoughts

If you live near a dam, are you satisfied with your access to information about it? Join the discussion below.

A Vale spokesman said that a routine business inspection following the Brazil disaster revealed the Manitoba dams had a safety factor – a technical term that refers to the strength factor greater than that required for a calculated load – below the level prescribed by the Canadian Dam Association, a trade group. He said there was no imminent threat of failure.

Barrick Gold Corp

, one of the world's largest gold miners, revealed that the upper part of a pond on a closed mine near Hope, British Columbia, did not have a complete set of engineering protocols. It later said, following questions from The Wall Street Journal, that engineers on behalf of the company had previously raised concerns about the woman's upper and lower part. These concerns were not revealed in the public filing.

Both sections have a "very high" hazard rating, which means that a breakdown can result in up to 100 deaths and significant environmental damage.

Barrick said that in 2016 it determined the upper part of the dam needed strengthening, and that in 2002 an engineer raised concerns about the lower part of the dam because of a pond with water forming on top of it. Water collection on a cut-off dam can weaken the structure.

"My kids swam in it," he said

Bruce Glowienka,

who owns property near the dam. "Wow, wow, wow."

Barrick said it spent $ 20 million, or about $ 15 million, to address the problems. The work took the possibility of a failure from a "relatively low probability to a very, very low probability," he said.

Patrick Malone,

Barrick & # 39; s Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs in North America.

After the Brumadinho collapse invested

Robert Crayfourd,

a fund manager at London-based CQS New City Investment Managers, e-mailed all the miners in his portfolio and asked them for more information about their dams. The company manages about $ 182 million in the resource sector. Post Brumadinho, any upstream dam "would be a big red flag," Crayfourd said.

Joe Foster,

a New York-based fund manager in VanEck, also dug deep into the cutoff pond exposures to the miners he owns. Although the former geologist did not find anything worrying in his own portfolio, Brumadinho brought home the risk posed by intersection dams, he said.

A 2014 rupture of the waste pond at Mount Polley in British Columbia released gold and copper mining waste and is classified as one of Canada's worst environmental disasters.


Photo:

Cariboo Regional District / Reuters

Miners have made changes since Brumadinho. The Canadian-based gold mine Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. began bringing a specialist in tailoring to their meetings with the fund for the first time, CEO

Sean Boyd

so.

After reading that Vale's external security auditors had known about the risk of the Brumadinho dam, Richard Adkerson, CEO of

Freeport-McMoRan Inc.,

called the company's top executives into a room. "If someone in our organization, or any of our external experts, has any indication of problems, it is unacceptable not to pass it on," he said, telling them.

The exact causes of the Brumadinho disaster are not yet known. While my dams of all designs have failed, the upstream type has produced several disasters.

In 2015, another upstream dam in Brazil operated from a joint venture between Vale and

BHP Group Ltd.

collapsed and killed 19 people. A year earlier, one on Mount Polley, owned by

Imperial Metals Corp.

, in British Columbia erupted, sending about 25 million cubic meters of gold and copper mining in a couple of ice gardens. No one died in the sparsely populated region, but the accident is classified as one of Canada's worst environmental disasters.

In 1972, an upstream pond holding back coal mining in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, collapsed, releasing 130 million gallons of sludge that killed 125 people, wiping out entire cities, leaving more than 4,000 people homeless – the worst dam failure in U.S. history.

Search for information

Investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked major miners to publish details of their mines and to publish more information on discharge ponds for the first time. Among those surveyed were miners who provided information on the stability of 224 dams in the United States. Of these dams, 18 had a stability problem throughout its history.

16 is upstream construction

Volume, million cubic meters

Investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked major miners to publish details of their mines, and published more information on discharge ponds for the first time. Among those surveyed were miners who provided information on the stability of 224 dams in the United States. Of these dams, 18 had a stability problem throughout its history.

16 is upstream construction

Volume, Million cubic meters

Investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked major miners to publish details of their mines, and published more information on discharge ponds for the first time. Among those surveyed were miners who provided information on the stability of 224 dams in the United States. Of these dams, 18 had a stability problem throughout its history.

16 is upstream construction

Volume, Million cubic meters

Investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked major miners to reveal details of their mines and to publish more information on discharge ponds for the first time. Among those surveyed were miners who provided information on the stability of 224 dams in the United States. Of these dams, 18 had a stability problem throughout its history.

16 is upstream construction

Volume, million cubic meters

After Brumadinho, Brazil completely prohibited upstream dams. Earthquakes exposed to Chile and Peru have banned them for some time. In Ontario, where

PolyMet Mining Corp

, the company that builds the dam outside Embarrass, is headquartered, upstream dams are effectively prohibited because they are no longer considered part of the mining industry's "best practice", a requirement before local authorities permit.

The European Union also bans them in certain situations, for example in places where there is a danger of seismic activity.

"Why is an upstream construction method good enough for Minnesota, when Brazil has found this design so unacceptable that old upstream dams must be removed, as well as new ones banned?"

Paula Maccabee,

a lawyer with Water Legacy, an environmental group focused on protecting Minnesota water quality.

Water Legacy cited Brazilian academic research that found that 66% of weaknesses in the mining pond worldwide involved upstream cutoff dams, pointing to a UN report listing eight such failures between 2014 and October 2017 in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, Israel and the United States

Christie Kearney, PolyMet's director of environmental affairs, at the site of the planned dam outside Embarrass.


Photo:

Stephen Maturen for The Wall Street Journal

Last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals suspended Apple's permits for the new PolyMet mine, preventing construction until the state regulator advises the court on, among other things, the Brazil dam failure.

In response to the ruling, a spokesman for PolyMet, a majority-owned by London-listed mining giant, became

Glencore

The PLC pointed to an analysis from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state regulator that approved the dam plan, which concluded that there were critical differences between the Brazilian dam and the planned US dam, including design, topography and local seismic activity.

"Nothing in the dam failure in [Brazil] changed what we evaluated and the results of our stability analyzes,"

Christie Kearney,

Said PolyMet's director of environmental pages before the ruling. Both PolyMet and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the dam was safe.

Types of Tailor Ponds

As the volume of cutoffs grows, new levels of dams – often made from sandy, dried cuts – are added to increase capacity.

In the upstream design, these new ramparts rest directly on the & # 39; beach & # 39; inside the reservoir. This saves money, since it requires little earth moving.

In the midline and downstream designs, new levels of the dam are placed on previous levels and built outwards. This results in a bulkier – and often more powerful – structure.

In the upstream design, these new ramparts rest directly on the & # 39; beach & # 39; inside the reservoir. This saves money, since it requires little relocation.

In the midline and downstream designs, new levels of the dam are placed on previous levels and built outwards. This results in a stronger – and often more powerful – structure.

In the upstream design, these new ramparts rest directly on the & # 39; beach & # 39; inside the reservoir. This saves money since it requires little relocation.

In the midline and downstream designs, new levels of the dam are placed on previous levels and built outwards. This results in a bulkier – and often more powerful – structure.

In the upstream design, these new ramparts rest directly on the & # 39; beach & # 39; inside the reservoir. This saves money, since it requires little relocation.

In the midline and downstream designs, new levels of the dam are placed on previous levels and built outwards. This results in a stronger – and often more stringent – structure.

Tailor-made risk

Water is a badass's worst woman. If it saturates the dam walls or cut-off during an upstream dam, the entire structure can float and slide. Weather cuts also move further and faster if they escape, causing more damage.

An undetected layer of clay or silt under a cutting pond can prove disastrous. In addition to being less robust than rock or sand, such materials drain poorly, allowing water to settle into the pond.

The higher the dam, the greater the disaster if it fails. The steeper the dam, the greater the risk. For an upstream dam made of tailings itself, engineers recommend a 25% gradient – flat enough to go up.

Upstream tailings ponds should be raised slowly so that the solid tailings times dry and consolidate enough to support a new level of the pond. But this requires a level of discipline beyond that which can test mining companies.

Water is one of the waste ponds worst enemy. If it saturates the dam walls or cut-off during an upstream dam, the entire structure can float and slide. Weather cuts also move further and faster if they escape, causing more damage.

An undetected layer of clay or silt under a cutting pond can prove disastrous. In addition to being less solid than rock or sand, such materials drain poorly, allowing water to settle into the pond.

The higher the pond, the greater the disaster if it fails. The steeper the dam, the greater the risk. For an upstream dam made of tailings itself, engineers recommend a 25% gradient – flat enough to go up.

Upstream tailings ponds should be raised slowly so that the solid tailings times dry and consolidate enough to support a new level of the pond. But this requires a level of discipline beyond that which can test mining companies.

Water is a waste dam's worst enemy. If it saturates the dam walls or cut-off during an upstream dam, the entire structure can float and slide. Weather cuts also move further and faster if they escape, causing more damage.

An undetected layer of clay or silt under a cutting pond can prove disastrous. In addition to being less solid than rock or sand, such materials drain poorly, allowing water to settle into the pond.

Flood dams should be lifted slowly to allow the solid cut-offs to dry and consolidate enough to support a new level of dam. But this requires a level of discipline beyond that which can test mining companies.

The higher the dam, the greater the disaster if it fails. The steeper the dam, the greater the risk. For an upstream dam made of cut-outs itself, engineers recommend a gradient of 25% – flat enough to go up.

Water is a dam's worst enemy. If it saturates the dam walls or cut-off during an upstream dam, the entire structure can float and slide. Weather cuts also move further and faster if they escape, causing more damage.

An undetected layer of clay or silt under a cut-off pond can prove disastrous. In addition to being less robust than rock or sand, such materials drain poorly, allowing water to settle into the pond.

Inflow ponds should be slowly lifted to allow the fixed cut-off time to dry and consolidate enough to support a new level of dam. But this requires a level of discipline beyond that which can test mining companies.

The higher the dam, the greater the disaster if it fails. The steeper the dam, the greater the risk. For an upstream dam made by tailor himself, engineers recommend a gradient of 25% – flat enough to go up.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that enforces mining compliance with health and safety standards, said it has met with Brazil's National Mining Agency to discuss Brumadinho. "Once the cause of the women's collapse is determined, MSHA will evaluate the findings and how they relate to practices in the United States," said a spokeswoman.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials, a trade body trying to improve American dam safety, is considering recommending the addition of specific information on tailor-made facilities for the first time, as it helps update the US Federal Emergency Agency's guidelines for dam safety. It was last updated in 2007 and is currently scheduled to be updated by the end of 2020.

However, tailings ponds in most US states are regulated in the same way as water dams, despite the fundamental differences in materials, operation, construction and purpose, according to women experts.

"There may be potential problems if the regulatory authority does not have sufficient expertise and experience with tailor ponds," he said

Mark Ogden,

a technical specialist at the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

Environmental groups have used the powerful video of the collapse of the dam in Brumadinho, recorded by an on-site camera, to capture the attention of the public. [19659003] In Queen Valley, Ariz., Population 829, a March meeting to discuss a potential pond for a nearby mining project including video viewing. Around 300 people attended the event, sponsored by two local environmental groups, compared to around 100 who attended such meetings before the disaster, according to

John Krieg,

a retired electrician who lives in Queen Valley and attended the meeting.

"We are looking at a 500-foot dam containing 1.6 billion tons of toxic waste and wondering when it will collapse and bury the community," Sa Krieg.

A spokesman for Resolution Copper, a joint venture between BHP and

Rio Tinto

PLS proposing the mine said that the dam it plans will not have the upstream design of it in Brazil. He said tailored experts, government agencies and the public are all involved in consultations for the project.

Ashleigh King, a treasurer of a wine monopoly in Aurora, Minn., Supports the planned dam and believes it would help the surrounding communities.


Photo:

Stephen Maturen for The Wall Street Journal

Environmentalists have for years opposed the plan for the new dam outside Embarrass. The project will build a new upstream mining dam on top of an existing upstream dam – already visible from Mr. Eman's land. The project will almost double the dam's capacity to 525 million tonnes to keep waste PolyMet expects from a planned copper and nickel mine. Many people living near the mine have embraced the plan, eager to bring jobs back to the region.

Mr. Ehman's property and 34 others are inside what is known as the "inundation zone" of the project: A complete destruction would send a wave of debris reaching as high as 9 feet and travel at speeds of up to 25 feet per second through the zone, according to a study by PolyMet.

No one told Ehman, a 61-year-old professional gardener.

“Oh, boy. What do you say? It could possibly happen? "Ehman asked.

Report on the inundation zone was published on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, but not the flag of Mr. Ehman and other residents interviewed in the zone who did not see it.

Mr. Eman's property is located in the & # 39; inundation zone & # 39; for the planned dam: A full blown failure would send a wave of waste through the area.


Photo:

Stephen Maturen for The Wall Street Journal

A spokesman for PolyMet said the company planned to inform residents of the inundation zone after they completed a second report on what would happen in the event of a collapse. The company said it has an evacuation plan in case of emergencies, and that there is a series of lakes and water ponds that will act as barriers to severely spreading the cut in a breach.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the chances of a catastrophic breach are "very unlikely" based on the destruction report that PolyMet completed. "No other projects in Minnesota history had been more thoroughly evaluated," the department spokesman said.

Tony Licari,

if the barn is visible from the north end of the existing dam is not concerned. "We're a mining region," said Licari, who works as a mining supervisor at a nearby taconite mine. "That's what we're doing up here."

An Indian tribe that hunts and fishes near the mine has expressed resistance, he said

Nancy Schuldt,

water protection coordinator with the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. Brumadinho "played on the sense of fear we have for the likelihood of such catastrophic failures," she said.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at alistair.macdonald@wsj.com, Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com and Kim Mackrael at kim.mackrael@wsj.com

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